Press Release
May 3, 2011


Program : Dateline
Time : 12:00 NN-1:00 PM
Host : Pinky Webb

Pinky: We're joined in the studio by JBC ex-officio member Sen. Francis "Chiz" Escudero. Chiz good to see you again.

FGE: Pinky, good afternoon. To our televiewers, magandang hapon.

Pinky: Okay, there are two issues I wanna discuss with you. There's the Ombudsman and the Supreme Court justices. Let's start with the Ombudsman. Merceditas Gutierrez retires officially on May 6.

FGE: Her resignation officially takes effect on May 6.

Pinky: There is no need to fill up that vacancy ASAP, right?

FGE: We have a maximum of ninety days from the time the vacancy has occurred to fill up that position via the appointment of the new one. But we have yet to begin with the process, Pinky, because we have yet officially a copy of the resignation letter that is not yet effective anyway. The first step to begin the process is to publish that such a vacancy exists so that those who might be interested may apply. Those who may want to nominate someone may nominate that person but that person has to accept. Hindi pwedeng hele-hele na pa-cute na, nominate dito tapos ayaw kunwari tapos pag na-appoint, tatanggapin. Hindi. That nomination must be accepted. Then it will be given to the JBC. All the nominations and the applications and then the JBC will see it and find out if there's someone who's automatically disqualified. By virtue of the constitutional provision, it says that he should've been engaged in the practice of law for at least ten years, a natural-born Filipino citizen and at least 40 years old. So assuming that all the applicants and nominees are qualified, we will publish that list again so that we can solicit comments from the public. Alam mo yun, yung mga may tinatagong sikreto, may mga positive endorsements, negative endorsements. Isasama naming lahat yun.

Pinky: Ang qualifications again, ten years as a lawyer...

FGE: Ten years engaged in the practice of law, forty years old, a natural-born citizen.

Pinky: Same with a senator.

FGE: Same qualifications as a senator.

Pinky: You said that she has not yet submitted a letter of resignation so you have not published the vacancy yet.

FGE: It has not yet been forwarded to us. She submitted to the Office of the President and the Office of the President should submit it to us with the cover letter informing us of such a resignation.

Pinky: Can you publish the vacancy as soon as you got the letter even if May 6 has not arrived yet?

FGE: To be safe, we will most likely publish it Monday next week in two newspapers of general circulation. But then again it's public knowledge anyway so if we publish it this week or next week, it just means more time for those who are thinking or pondering whether or not they want to be the next Ombudsman.

Pinky: How many, normally, nominations are submitted to the JBC? I mean, rough estimate.

FGE: Given my experience for the past three years in the JBC, anywhere between, for example, MTC judge in Sulu or Basilan, as low as even less than three; for justice of the Supreme Court, as high as fifty-four, fifty-five; for the position of the Ombudsman, I would predict it would be about, at least 20.

Pinky: And then, you go through the selection process, do some investigation and then submit a shortlist to the President.

FGE: Not only investigation, Pinky. We also conduct interviews, psychiatric evaluation. And then, based on those information, we would deliberate and vote on at least three, to be submitted to the President. It can be three or five or seven.

Pinky: So how do you vote among the members of the JBC? How is voting conducted?

FGE: Open balloting.

Pinky: So you choose the top three?

FGE: No. We usually choose the ones that get the most... Uhm, now there are seven members. They appointed a member of the IBP so that makes eight. Anyone who gets five will be included in the list.

Pinky: Yeah. But do you just choose one?

FGE: No. It depends upon the agreement of the members. For example, we're given five votes or seven votes... So I can choose five from amongst the list of twenty or seven amongst the list of twenty-five. And then we get the names of those who got at least five votes, majority.

Pinky: So then, that is submitted to the President. Isn't the chairman of the JBC, the Supreme Court Chief Justice?

FGE: Yes, automatically.

Pinky: Does he have extra powers?

FGE: None except to preside and lead us in the prayer.

Pinky: So we won't be seeing any nominations? There hasn't been any nomination yet?

FGE: They are all mere speculations because until and unless they apply; until and unless they are nominated and they accept the nomination; they are not within the radar scheme of the JBC.

Pinky: Do you have someone you think would be the Ombudsman?

FGE: Well, let me talk about the qualifications that the next Ombudsman should be if I were to decide. One, basically, we are looking for someone who is not like the former. So one, must not have close associations with the president. Even if we believe in President Aquinoeven if we believe in his integrity, still, that closeness will always be interpreted and used against him later on and against the Ombudsman. So, the next Ombudsman, even President Aquino will appoint him or her, must not be too identified with the President or any of his allies and with his party-mates. Second, he or she must have the will power or strong knees in so to speak to act on the many cases pending on the Ombudsman. And third, he or she must have that level of integrity and courage, I would like to add to really run after to those who violated the law and stole from the coffers of government. Wala dapat takot dito. Yung mga nakaraang Ombudsman Pinky pinadala pa nga sa Amerika yung kanilang mga kamag-anak. Yung mga nakaraang Ombudman walang ng pamilya o mag-isa nalang sa mundo. Kaya may tapang talaga sila na gawin yung dapat gawin kasi there are threats that will be thrown on that person.

Pinky: Was Ombudsman Gutierrez matapang?

FGE: Well, when the impeachment complaint was filed against her, yes, she showed a lot of courage. But when you speak of filing cases against certain people, perhaps, given that it's already moot and academic, perhaps it fall short from the standard of a lot of people.

Pinky: Let me ask you on this. There have been reports, prior to her resignation the Ombudsman appointed between 6 and 8, I'm not sure if deputy or assistant Ombudsmen. With the new Ombudsman coming in, he or she, how is the job of the new Ombudsman gonna be affected if the old Ombudsman had already appointed key positions in the office?

FGE: The Ombudsman is the head of office. He or she will nearly have plenary power in so far as reassigning members of his staff. So even if that person was appointed Asst. Ombudsman he can reassign him to a status similar to a floating status in the PNP or AFP, or outside of office.

Pinky: So they can be pretty lame duck?

FGE: Essentially yes because he might not give them that much responsibility. But then again Pinky, it's not necessarily bad because if that person was appointed Asst. Ombudsman by the former Ombudsman, at least there will be a semblance of checks and balances. Hindi yun tipong sitwasyon na lahat hawak nya, lahat diktado nya. Very much like what we have now under the current Ombudsman, everybody is with her. Siguro maganda rin na yung Ombudsman na papalit hindi rin sa kanya yung lahat sa opisina, para pag may maling ginawa, madaling sisingaw din.

Pinky: But what do you think of that move by Ombudsman Gutierrez to fill up those vacancies right before her resignation?

FGE: If true, we haven't been able to verify it yet. If true, again, I think she just wants to leave a complete office, perhaps, na walang mga bakante.

Pinky: Why not leave it to the next Ombudsman?

FGE: But the incoming Ombudsman, I believe can, under the Ombudsman Act, he can or she can still reorganize the office. Siguro ayaw lang nyang makitang butas-butas. And because she knows also for a fact, that the next Ombudsman can reorganize the office the way he or she wants it.

Pinky: Who's going to serve as the Acting Ombudsman while you're still looking for replacement?

FGE: The ODO, Overall Deputy Ombudsman, I think that's Casimiro. Until such time the Ombudsman shall have been chosen for a full term. Pinky, this is not for the unexpired term of Ombudsman Gutierrez. This is for the full term of 7 years.

Pinky: You have made that decision among all your members of JBC. You had a meeting and you all decided that the next Ombudsman will serve a full seven-year term.

FGE: Not only our decision is based on the Ombudsman Act more particularly Sec. 8 Par.3 which says that the replacement in case of resignation, deterrent capacity shall be for the full term of seven years. What we are discussing is when will that seven-year period commence? From the time when the vacancy was created when she resigned affectively on May 6 or when the next Ombudsman shall have been appointed and signed by the president?

Pinky: Give or take that's probably just a month anyway.

FGE: Give or take one or two months but still we would like to make it clear.

Pinky: Right. Especially for future problems that may arise. You were also saying that... That was also apparently the legal opinion of Justice Sec. Leila de Lima back in February that the next Ombudsman will serve a seven-year term.

FGE: Yes as early as that, perhaps the Malacañang was already inquiring what would happen if...

Pinky: Alright, we leave that topic. You will have couple of weeks to look into this, to submit this to the president. I'm sure the president would wanna appoint the next Ombudsman as soon as possible.

FGE: The soonest possible time but taking very good care that the next Ombudsman will be a symbol; will carry the torch and the flag after dragging everyone into this fight. And then the next Ombudsman would be a fluke. I think that is the last thing also that Macalañang wants.

Pinky: What do you think of Justice Conchita Carpio Morales?

FGE: I reserve judgment because it might reach the JBC. Her name might reach the JBC. She might apply or she might be nominated. But suffice it to say that members of the court or former members of the court would be a good resource except for the age factor perhaps. But it would be a good resource because by the time they retired they'll be 70.

Pinky: Right, that's the retirement age for Supreme Court Justices. So Justice Carpio-Morales is turning 70.

FGE: I'm not saying that age is a disadvantage because age has always been used against me. The opposite though. Neither will I use that against those...

Pinky: I guess what's important is that they're healthy.

FGE: Their health and their capacity and ability to work because... I'm sure there are more cases in the Ombudsman than cases assigned to a Supreme Court Justice. And if it usually takes a long time before a case is decided by the Supreme Court, I hope it won't be the same with respect to the Ombudsman.

Pinky: That's the one thing they need to change within the Office of the Ombudsman, the snail pace of the cases that they need to resolve. Moving on to the Supreme Court, there will be two vacancies existing in June and July.

FGE: June and July - the one to be created by Justice Morales and Justice Nachura. We already opened, in fact, extended the period for application.

Pinky: From March 29 to April 29?

FGE: Yes and we will be publishing the names of those who applied and those who were nominated to get the comments of the public. And those who were already interviewed for previous application, we will not interview anymore.

Pinky: So how many do you still need to interview?

FGE: I think twenty.

Pinky: And how many are the ones that have been previously interviewed?

FGE: About fifteen.

Pinky: They're about thirty-five.

FGE: There are about thirty-five applicants and nominees

Pinky: And then from there go to the usual process also like the Ombudsman. Investigation, public hearing, etc

FGE: No public hearing. Interview

Pinky: Interview. What about psychiatric evaluation?

FGE: That's also good for one year very much like the interview. If you underwent through the psychiatric examination, if you underwent the interview, it's good for one year so if you apply within a year for any position to the judiciary, it's good. But after the lapse of one year, you have to go through it again. Because we're assuming that the psychiatric evaluation is good for one year.

Pinky: I'm assuming. Yeah. Thirty-five nominations. Is this a lot? From your previous experience?

FGE: The most I've seen is about fifty-four, fifty-seven. But this is for two positions. So divide that by two, that's approximately 17.

Pinky: So you have thirty-five. When do you intend to pass or give the shortlist to Pres. Aquino?

FGE: June. I think some time in middle of June. Because the last time that it was conducted, June 14 if I'm not mistaken. So hopefully by the 3rd week of June of 4th week of June it will be with the President and he has ninety days from the time the vacancy occurred to fill it up.

Pinky: It's all the same. Ninety days for the Ombudsman, ninety days for the Supreme Court Justice. I guess for Court of Appeals, it would be the same as well.

FGE: Yes, but in the case of the Ombudsman, the vacancy will be created May 6. We weren't prepared for it. Nobody expected her to resign. Here, we're well aware that they will be retiring in a certain day. We started the process April so that the President has a longer period to time to mull, to make a decision as who he would want to appoint.

Pinky: Does it look like good thirty-three, thirty-five list of nominees?

FGE: I've been pushing the JBC for us to make a decision similar to Department of Foreign Affairs, to have a fix percentage of appointees or promotions coming from the ranking file, the Judiciary. So for example I've been pushing for the agreement 70% from the career judiciary positions, 30% from the outside. So the balance of the Supreme Court will always be roughly that way. And we should also look at the eight subjects of the Bar, Political law, Labor Law, Commercial Law, Criminal Law, Civil Law, Tax, so that there is always a resident expert in the Supreme Court in a particular subject matter. And they're not all good in criminal law. They're not all good in constitutional law. There must be a healthy mix.

Pinky: And what's the JBC saying about this?

FGE: It's still the free vote of the members. They don't wanna be tied by those restrictions but the very least, we are able to get that data and at least disseminate it to each member and he or she can weigh it in. Even the schools, Pinky, even the fraternities.

Pinky: Sounds fair though. Seventy percent within, thirty percent from outside... There are a lot of chances for those who have been working in the...

FGE: And to encourage them, Pinky, to do a good job because they have a good chance on becoming a justice someday. We're also looking at schools. Hindi naman pwedeng puro taga-UP yan, puro taga-Ateneo yan. Hindi pwedeng puro taga-San Beda yan. There must be a good mix as well. We also look at regional representation. Para naman may perspective at kumpleto yung korte sa iba't-ibang perspective

Pinky: Alright, Sen. Chiz Escudero good to see you again, Sir. And we'll wait for the... Of course once you're ready with the shortlist, that will be published. Even the nomination will be published.

FGE: We will publish it

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