Rep. Umali files petition in SC to reinstate votes in JBC

House Committee on Justice Chairman and Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali on Thursday filed a petition before the Supreme Court (SC) asking the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) to be included in voting power for appointments in judiciary.

In its 38-page petition for Certiorari and Mandamus under Rule 65 of the Revised Rules of Court, Umali asked the High Court to reconsider its 2013 decision which affirmed that lawmakers will only have one representative in the JBC.

It was the SC itself that cut the voting representations of the Senate and House from two to one in a 2013 ruling that granted the petition of the late former Solicitor General Frank Chavez.

"The JBC be directed to revert back to its prior representational arrangement where two representatives from Congress are recognized and allowed to vote, or the status quo ante, prior to the Chavez ruling, and in accordance with such specific guidelines that the Supreme Court will promulgate to ensure full and proper representation and voting by both members from the Senate and the House of Representatives, and thereafter to recognize, accept and count the votes cast by the petitioner Umali in all proceedings of the JBC," Umali said in his petition.

The arrangement means that the justice committee chairpersons of the House of Representatives and the Senate -- Umali and Senator Richard Gordon in the 17th Congress -- are ex-officio members of the JBC.

Under the arrangement, Umali sits in the council from January to June, and Gordon from July to December.

"The current six-month rotational representation of Congress by the Senate and the House of Representative in the JBC be declared unconstitutional," the petition stated.

Just like the position of previous leaders of the Senate and House in the previous administration whose joint appeal on the ruling was dismissed by the SC, Umali argued that the seven-member composition of the JBC violates the Constitution insofar as it deprives Congress of fair representation in the council where two other co-equal branches of government have three members each.

"Under the present composition of the JBC, Congress is denied full representation. When it is the turn of the Senate to sit in the Council, the House of Representatives is denied representation. Conversely, when it is the turn of the House of Representatives to sit therein, the Senate is the one denied of its right to represent Congress," the lawmaker argued.

He cited as proof the deliberations of the JBC held last Dec. 2 and 9 for the two vacancies in the SC for the retirements this month of Associate Justices Jose Perez and Arturo Brion where the votes he submitted were not counted.

" The JBC's denial of petitioner Umali's vote as ex-officio member during the En Banc sessions on December 2 and 9, 2016, be reversed and set aside," said in petition.

In both deliberations, the council chaired by Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno only counted the votes submitted by Senate justice committee chair Richard Gordon because of the current six-month rotation in the membership in JBC of the Senate and House representatives.

Apart from alternate voting, the JBC has also adopted half-voting system for the two representatives of Congress by allowing them to vote in the same deliberation but only with 0.5 vote each.

"In case where each was given a half-vote, the rights of both the House of Representatives and the Senate are diluted. In case of six months rotation, there is periodic denial or deprivation of such right, contrary to the purpose of the Constitution. Only when both the House of Representatives and the Senate are given an equal vote of one each, is there a full recognition of their independent right of representation," Umali stressed.

He lamented that given the current system, he would only be able to vote in two vacancies out of the eight vacancies in the first three years in the six-year term of President Duterte.

The other six vacancies, he stressed, would be filled while Sen. Gordon will sit for Congress.

For these grounds, petitioner accused the JBC of committing grave abuse of discretion and asked the SC to declare the current setup of rotational representation of the Senate and House as unconstitutional.

The respondent JBC is a constitutional body headed by the Chief Justice, Hon. Ma. Lourdes P. A. Sereno as ex-officio Chairman.

The JBC, the body tasked to screen nominees to posts in the judiciary and the office of the Ombudsman, came up with a short list after three months of selection, including public interviews last month.

Under the Constitution, the President must appoint the new justices within 90 days from the respective vacancies.

The JBC is chaired by Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Aranal-Sereno, with two ex-officio members -- Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguierre II and legislative representatives Senator Richard Gordon and Mindoro Oriental Rep. Reynaldo Umali, who shall have a term sharing seat in the JBC.

The regular members are retired SC Justice Angelina Sandoval-Gutierrez, who heads the Executive Committee; lawyer Jose Mejia, representing the academe; lawyer Milagros Fernan-Cayosa, representing the Integrated Bar of the Philippines; and retired Judge Toribio Ilao, representing the private setor.

President Duterte is expected to appoint at least 10 justices in SC during his six-year term.

There will be two more vacancies during the election period after his term. Per SC ruling, the President may appoint SC justices during the election period as such position is exempted from the midnight appointments ban.

Source: Philippines News Agency