SC junks petition seeking separate votes for Senate, House in JBC

MANILA-- The Supreme Court junked petition filed by House Committee on Justice Chairman and Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali asking the Judicial Bar and Council (JBC) to restore separate voting representation of the Senate and House of Representatives for appointments in the judiciary and the Office of the Ombudsman.

SC spokesman Theodore Te announced the directive was issued following Tuesday's regular en banc session of the magistrates.

Te said the court, voting 9-5, in a decision penned by Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr., dismissed the petition Umali seeking to strike down the current policy of the JBC designating only one voting representation to both houses of Congress in deliberations for shortlists in vacancies under a shared term arrangement.

Velasco did not find merit in the petition and instead affirmed the Court's 2012 ruling that cut the voting representations of the Senate and House from two to one through a petition by the late former Solicitor General Frank Chavez.

Eight magistrates concurred in this ruling: Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and Associate Justices Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Jose Mendoza, Estela Perlas-Bernabe, Francis Jardeleza, Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa and Noel Tijam.

The five justices who dissented and voted to grant the petition were Associate Justices Teresita Leonard- De Castro, Mariano Del Castillo, Marvic Leonen, Samuel Martinez and Andres Reyes Jr.

Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno inhibited from the case, being the ex-officio chair of JBC.

"As a result of the dismissal of the petition, the decision of the Court in Chavez v. JBC stands," Te told reporters during the press conference.

The SC rejected Umali's argument 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.

Umali filed the petition as 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 his counterpart - Senate justice committee chair Sen. Richard Gordon - sits in the JBC for Congress.

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.

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

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 Aguirre 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 12 justices in SC during his six-year term.

The President earlier promoted Sandiganbayan Samuel Martires, CA Associate Justice Noel Tijam and CA presiding Justice Andres Reyes Jr., to the SC.

Source: Philippine News Agency