President Benigno Aquino (PNoy) is being criticized by members of the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) and even by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court for not appointing a new Sandiganbayan justice within the 90-day period despite the shortlist submitted already to Malacañang by JBC.
The JBC is constitutionally mandated to screen and vet nominees for vacant posts in the judiciary and the Offices of the Ombudsman and Deputy Ombudsman. In this case, the vacancy was triggered in 2013 by the promotion to Sandiganbayan presiding justice of Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang.
This has become a controversial issue now more so that the plunder and graft charges against the three senators and their co-accused in the PDAF scam has already been raffled in the Sandiganbayan and the anti-graft court still lacks an associate justice.
It looks like, to this day, Malacañang is still scrutinizing whether or not each of the shortlisted candidates fall under the category of a competent associate justice, if and when he/she gets selected and made to handle or be part of a team that will handle the controversial PDAF scam case.
To be competent is not just about intelligence, qualification or expertise, but it is also about being your own person, being independent and having the strong moral fiber to execute decisions with utmost decency and probity.
This is, perhaps, the reason why it is taking long for Malacañang to fill up the vacancy because it wants the JBC to reevaluate their shortlisted candidates in as far as their connections are concern with those implicated in the PDAF scam.
While this may seem unfair to the shortlisted candidates, PNoy probably just wants to make sure that friendship, association, reciprocity and pressure will not influence in any manner, shape and form the judgment/decision of the Sandiganbayan justice.
A Malacañang spokesperson issued the following statements: “Our objective is to find the right people for the most vital and sensitive positions in the Judiciary. In light of information we received during our vetting process, we have requested the JBC to further review and evaluate the candidates for the vacancy in the Sandiganbayan.”
“Extra efforts to vet the individuals in the shortlist were necessary, given the importance of appointing competent, honest jurists to higher courts like the Sandiganbayan, our country’s anti-graft court.”
Included in the JBC shortlist were Judges Maryann Corpus Manalac and Andres Soriano of Makati Regional Trial Court (RTC), Bernelito Fernandez of Quezon City RTC, Ronaldo Martin of Antipolo RTC, and Ma. Theresa Dolores Gomez Estoesta of Manila RTC, Justice Undersecretary Leah Tanodra Armamento, Department of Justice (DOJ) Chief State Counsel Ricardo Paras III, and Assistant Solicitor General Marissa Macaraig Guillen.
For a more distinct reason as to why Malacañang requested for the reevaluation of the shortlisted nominees by the JBC is because in 2012, and long before the P10-billion pork barrel scam erupted and implicated three senators including Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, the latter is said to have written PNoy endorsing Quezon City RTC Judge Bernelito Fernandez for the position of a Sandiganbayan associate justice.
The same Fernandez is now included in the JBC list.
Perhaps Malacañang has found similar anomaly in all the nominees during their own intensive vetting process that puts the nominee’s competency in question.
Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, who is the JBC chairman, likened PNoy to former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
Perhaps she is correct, but Arroyo did it for the wrong reason while Aquino is doing it for the right reason.