Council told: Disqualify 4 Chief Justice nominees

MANILA -- Farmers of Hacienda Luisita asked the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) on Wednesday to disqualify four nominees to the Chief Justice post who are perceived to be allies of President Benigno Aquino III.

Warning against the formation of an “Aquino court,” members of the Alyansa ng Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita, Alyansa ng mga Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luzon (AMGL), the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa and the militant labor group Anakpawis said they will oppose the nomination of Supreme Court (SC) Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza and Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) chief Kim Henares.

The groups held a rally in front of the SC and burned enlarged pictures of the four nominees, saying the possible appointment to the top judicial position will compromise the independence of the High Court.

It would also make the SC “vulnerable to Aquino’s political arm twisting” in a bid to reverse the court’s final resolution last April 24 ordering the distribution of Hacienda Luisita lands to farmers.

“We are against the appointment of a chief justice who is politically connected to Aquino. With Aquino appointing an ally regardless of his or her credentials would only be a repeat of what former President Gloria Arroyo did when she appointed ousted Chief Justice Renato Corona,” said Joseph Canlas, spokesperson of AMGL.

According to the farmers, all four nominees are Aquino’s favored candidates.

Carpio’s previous partners in the CVC law officers are allied with Aquino, while Sereno was the President’s first appointee to the SC.

Jardeleza served Aquino’s uncle, businessman Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco in San Miguel Corp., while Henares is a member of the Aquino Cabinet.

The JBC’s list of nominees as of 5 p.m. Wednesday totaled 52 with the addition of five SC justices, the presiding justices of the Sandiganbayan and Court of Appeals, and another justice of the appellate court.

Also nominated were SC Associate Justices Martin Villarama Jr., Lucas Bersamin, Mariano del Castillo, Bienvenido Reyes, Jose Mendoza; Sandiganbayan Presiding Justice Francisco Villaruz; CA Presiding Justice Andres Reyes; and CA Associate Justice Magdangal de Leon.

All magistrates of the High Court have already been nominated – five most senior were automatically nominated, and the rest were nominated in succeeding dates.

The five most senior are acting Chief Justice Carpio, Presbitero Velasco Jr., Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, Arturo Brion, and Diosdado Peralta. Among them, only Brion confirmed, as well as another SC justice, Roberto Abad.

Aside from Brion and Abad, 11 others confirmed: Human Rights lawyer Jose Manuel Diokno; tax lawyer Rodolfo Robles; Comelec Commissioner Rene Sarmiento; retired Judge Manuel Siayngco Jr.; former Ateneo Law School Dean Cesar Villanueva; former Executive Secretary Ronaldo Zamora; lawyers Katrina Legarda, Rafael Morales, Soledad Cagampang-de Castro, and Vicente Velasquez; and former UP College of Law Dean Raul Pangalangan.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, meanwhile, asked members of the media on Wednesday to stop posing questions about her possible entry to the list of those vying to replace Corona.

“You will know if I have already made a decision. That’s why, if possible, please don’t ask me on that matter for the meantime because the pressure is bearing on me,” de Lima said.

She said she has yet to talk with Aquino on the nominations she has received this past week even though the Chief Executive himself wanted to keep the justice chief to stay in the Cabinet.

De Lima also said in one of her interviews that she favored the live coverage of the public interviews for the applicants for Chief Justice.

The application period ends on July 2. (ECV/Virgil Lopez/Sunnex)