Court officials to release 2011 asset statements

MANILA -- The Supreme Court (SC) approved on Wednesday the public disclosure of assets statements of judges and justices, but guidelines for such release will have to be discussed in a special en banc session on June 13.

All SC justices, except for Lucas Bersamin and Diosdado Peralta who were both in Baguio City for a pre-scheduled lecture, approved the move to disclose their statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) for 2011.

The decision to disclose their SALN effectively nullifies the SC's May 2, 1989 resolution during the time of then Chief Justice Andres Narvasa, who was appointed to the High Court by the late President Corazon Aquino.

The 1992 resolution required court officials to submit their respective SALN before the Office of the Clerk of Court, and which made it unlawful for any person to obtain or use any statement filed under Republic Act 6713, the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, for (a) any purpose contrary to morals or public policy, or (b) any commercial purpose other than by news and communications media for dissemination to the general public.

"Let's not forget, precedent-setting ang ginawa ni CJ Corona to issue a waiver (Corona's signing of the waiver was a precedent setting)," acting SC spokesperson Gleo Guerra said when asked whether the court's decision to release the SALN of justices had anything to do with ousted Chief Justice Renato Corona's call for other top government officials to also issue a waiver on the confidentiality of their bank accounts, which was an issue raised during his impeachment trial.

Guerra said disclosure of justices' full SALN was a "collective decision" of the court and not just an initiative of Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, who is acting Chief Justice since Wednesday following Corona's ouster by a majority vote of the 23-member Senate.

She said, meanwhile, that the justices also resolved to take up during the June 19 session the issue of whether Corona is entitled to get his benefits despite his impeachment.

Corona was convicted by the Senate impeachment court for failure to declare in his SALN his $2.4 million worth of dollar deposits and P80-million peso deposits, which he said were co-mingled funds of his family and his wife’s family-owned Basa-Guidote Enterprises Inc. (BGEI) funds.

A highly placed court source, who declined to be named, said that among the issues to be discussed during the special en banc was whether to give Corona 30 days to pack up and turn over official documents, considering the final and executory nature of the Senate impeachment court's ruling on his removal from office.

The source also said there was a suggestion for SC justices and court employees to draft a manifesto asking President Benigno Aquino III to appoint someone from among the present 14 justices the next head of the judiciary and not an outsider as some sectors suggested.

Senator Francis Escudero, a close associate of the President, said Aquino is inclined to appoint an outsider as top magistrate.

"By tradition or by practice, it's always an incumbent justice that is chosen as Chief Justice but there is no limitation for the JBC (Judicial and Bar Council) or the President to appoint someone from the outside," he said in a chance interview.

The JBC vets the nominees to all positions such as judges and justices and it has to submit a shortlist to the President for his consideration.

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile said Aquino cannot appoint a new Chief Justice because the JBC is headless owing to Corona's conviction.

"Since there is no JBC, so to speak, because the Chief Justice is the chairman of the JBC, the President, by force of necessity, must appoint a Chief Justice among those incumbent justices of the Supreme Court, the 14 remaining justices. Acting Chief Justice is not authorized under the 1987 Constitution unlike under the 1935 Constitution," he said in a television interview.

President Aquino said Wednesday evening that the next Chief Justice must be honest, aside from being credible, independent, and knowledgeable to run the judiciary.

Aquino said he will make the most out of the mandated 90 days to choose the most suitable person for the highest position in the Supreme Court.

"Hindi po natin mamadaliin ang pagpili, dahil ayaw nating magkamali at bumalik na naman sa dating sitwasyon (I will not rush as we might end up committing the same mistake again)," Aquino said.

He reiterated that his battle against Corona is not personal and he only wanted to fix the system.

A newspaper report on Wednesday said that Senator Franklin Drilon was also among the three public officials eyed by President Aquino to replace Corona.

But the senator, who is the closest ally of the President, said cutting his term as senator to give way for a possible appointment to the Supreme Court is certainly off his radar.

"To set the fact straight, I am not interested in the position of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. I believe I can serve our country better as a senator. I intend to finish my term as a senator and fulfill the mandate that was given to me by the 15.8 million Filipinos who voted for me last election," Drilon said.

Drilon, who placed third in the 1969 Bar Examinations, won a third term in the Senate in 2010.

Besides Drilon, Internal Revenue Commissioner Kim Henares and Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza are supposedly being considered for the post. (JCV/Virgil Lopez/Jill Beltran/Sunnex)