MANILA, Philippines - President Aquino made known yesterday his preference for Secretary Leila de Lima to stay at the Department of Justice, as he had previously indicated, rather than join the nominees who want to be the country’s next chief justice.
This came as the Supreme Court upheld the power of the President to appoint the chief justice, dismissing the petition of a taxpayer who cited the lack of a specific provision in the Constitution for the appointment.
While Aquino refused to categorically say if he wanted De Lima to undergo grilling by the Judicial and Bar Council - the constitutional body tasked to screen applicants for the judiciary - he nonetheless hinted she will feel it once a shortlist is submitted.
“That (preference to stay at DOJ) becomes a possibility if her name exists on the list to be submitted by the JBC,” Aquino said, in reply to a specific question whether his “initial preference for De Lima to stay (at DOJ) still stands.”
Secretary Edwin Lacierda, official spokesman of Aquino, said the DOJ chief acted on her own when she accepted her nomination to the JBC, pointing out that this did not have the approval of Aquino himself.
“The premise (that Aquino advised her to accept her nomination) is not entirely correct because there was no go-signal from the President,” he told Palace reporters in a news briefing.
“You cannot force someone if some person would not prefer to take that challenge. Obviously, the statement of Secretary De Lima was that she is going to take up the challenge and so she is willing to be examined by her peers,” he said.
“And there was no approval from the President,” he said, noting that Aquino “just told Secretary De Lima that he will respect whatever decision she will make during their meeting.”
Lacierda also downplayed impressions this may well be taken as disobedience as this went against Aquino’s wishes, which is for De Lima and Bureau of Internal Revenue commissioner Kim Henares - who declined the nomination - to stay in the team.
The Palace had said that De Lima and Henares are assets to the administration.
“There’s no such thing as disobedience there because obviously there was a nomination process. And I think a lawyer - this has always been a common statement of any lawyer - one of the dreams of a lawyer is to be a chief justice,” he said.
Meanwhile, the resolution released yesterday stated that apart from upholding the power of the President to appoint its head, the high court also invoked its power to be represented in the JBC for the selection of chief justice following the nomination of acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio and his inhibition as chair of JBC.
Petitioner Famela Dulay asked the high court in her petition filed last week to issue a temporary restraining order enjoining the JBC from proceeding with its process to pick the next chief justice, arguing that Article VIII Section 9 of the Constitution only said the President shall appoint members of the SC and did not specify appointment of chief justice.
But the high court, in its ruling, held that this interpretation of the constitutional provision was baseless.
“A plain reading of the constitutional provisions on the Judicial Department in Article VIII of the 1987 Constitution clearly shows that the phrase ‘members of the Supreme Court’ and the words ‘members’ and ‘member’ are repeatedly used to refer to the justices of the Supreme Court without distinction whether he be the chief justice or any of the associate justices or all fifteen justices,” read the high court’s seven-page resolution.
The SC also cited technical ground in dismissing the petition, saying Dulay does not have legal standing to seek relief from the court on this issue.
“Nowhere in her petition did she assert her right either as citizen or taxpayer filing her petition on behalf of the public who are directly affected by the issues. Accordingly she is wanting in legal standing to institute the instant petition. Outright dismissal of the present petition is, therefore, warranted,” the court ruled. - With Edu Punay, Ding Cervantes