MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) - Constitutionalist and Jesuit priest Fr. Joaquin Bernas agrees with those who have pointed out that the composition of the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC), the body tasked to screen nominees for judicial posts, Ombudsman, and Deputy Ombudsmen, should be 7, not 8.
Bernas, a delegate to the 1986 Constitutional Commission, however, pointed out that the usual practice is for Congress to send 2 representatives -- one from the Lower House, another from the Upper Chamber.
"It (JBC composition) is really seven 7 but in the practice, it really was 8," he said.
Former Solicitor General and Chief Justice nominee Francisco Chavez and taxpayer Danilo Lihaylihay separately wrote the JBC to question its current composition of 8, specifically, on why Congress has 2 ex-officio members sitting in the council. At present, Sen. Francis Escudero (chairman, Senate Justice Committee) and Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas, Jr. (chairman, House Justice Committee) are members of the JBC.
"When the Constitution uses the phrase 'a representative of the Congress,' it is all too clear to require interpretation that there should only be one representative from Congress. Under the present set-up, why do we have 2 representatives from Congress -- one from the House of Representatives and one from the Senate?" Chavez said.
Chavez further sought the clarification of the JBC if each representative from Congress is entitled to one vote each, and who breaks a tie in the voting of the council.
Lihaylihay, for his part, said "the present set-up or composition of the JBC is unconstitutional."
Bernas clarified that the members from Congress are not entitled to one vote each.
"The members of Congress are half a vote each or they alternated," Bernas said.
A JBC insider, however, revealed that in recent years, both representatives from Congress are entitled to one vote each.
To settle the controversy once and for all, Chavez said he will bring up the matter of the composition of the JBC before the Supreme Court (SC).
The JBC is currently in the process of screening applicants and nominees for Chief Justice vice Renato Corona. The council intends to submit its shortlist to Malacanan by July 30. The Constitution states that the President should fill vacancies in the Supreme Court within 90 days.