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MANILA, Philippines – (UPDATE: 6:58 pm) Sen. Miriam Santiago has no plans of resigning from the Senate anytime soon, and will write the Commission on Elections to discourage it from entertaining a proposal to declare 13, not just 12 seats vacant for the May 2013 senatorial polls. She warns those maligning her before the ICC that she just might decide to stay in Manila and make life hard for them; and wonders if the one who nominated her for chief justice is her enemy.
At the same time, Santiago, peppering her talk before the Credit Management Association of the Philippines (CMAP) with pick-up lines, warned her detractors against continuing to raise issues against her, since she will be around for much longer and will not hesitate to make life difficult for them as well.
Santiago said she had written the president of the International Criminal Court, where she has been elected a judge, to ask for an indicative schedule of when she might be called to duty in the tribunal, but he wrote back to say “that there’s no possibility that the ICC will call me in the immediate future... so maybe I’ll stay here in the Philippines for maybe six months or even a year or more.”
Her “humble proposal” therefore is for the Comelec to “only prepare 12 slots in the ballot, because I myself do not know when will I be called and neither does the international court."
If the Comelec allots 13 vacant Senate slots and sets these up for election in 2013, it might “be very awkward if another senator has already been elected to replace me and I still have not been called to the ICC,” said Santiago, who still has six more years in her term as senator.
“So I will write a formal letter to [Comelec] Chairman [Sixto] Brillantes so the government will not lose money in printing the ballots."
“I understand that in a presscon, he made an appeal to me to specify when I am leaving, because if I’m leaving very soon, then in the forthcoming election in 2013 the Comelec will prepare vacancies or slots for 13 senators... otherwise they will only prepare slots for 12 senators."
Online petitioners warned
Meanwhile, Santiago vented her ire on her detractors, apparently singling out a group that is pushing an online petition to disqualify her from the ICC and insist that she undergo psychiatric evaluation.
"If they continue to aggravate me I’ll remain in the Philippines...at huwag na huwag nilang i-publicize sa Internet that they are causing a petition to be signed that I should be disqualified from the International Criminal Court,” she said, adding in Filipino that “if they do that again [publicize their campaign], I will call their bluff and not go to the ICC. Let’s see where that will take them. [They must remember] I still have six years as senator, and I can use that time to take them on.”
Santiago was earlier reported preparing to leave for the Netherlands to assume her seat in the ICC, as the first Filipino and first Asian to sit as judge in the global tribunal set up to try crimes against humanity.
Under ICC rules, however, a judge who has retired---and whose seat can be assumed by a new judge like Santiago--- is not allowed to leave for as long as a case in his or her docket remains unresolved.
On her nomination as CJ
Meanwhile, Santiago dwelt on her nomination as Chief Justice.
"Lahat ng tao ngayon gusto maging chief justice...Ang chief justice ay nakaupo sa isang sulok at nagbabasa ng isang metrong katas na papel.. hanggang ma cross-eyed siya, hilig ba nila yon [These days everyone wants to be chief justice. But the CJ for the most part sits in one corner reading a meter-high stack of papers until he or she gets cross-eyed. Do they want that]?”
Then she added jokingly, "Ako ni-nominate bilang chief justice, bakit gusto ba nya akong manahimik sa isang sulok? Tapos hindi na ako makapagsalita? kaya pinaimbestigahan ko talaga kung kalaban ko yung nag-nominate sa akin…Hindi naman pala. Kaya nagpasalamat na rin ako [Take my case. I was also nominated for chief justice. Why? Does this person want me to sit in one corner and keep quiet? That’s why I want to find out if my nominator hates me, and I had him investigated. But then I realized such wasn’t the case. So I thank the person who nominated me]."
Wants 'politics-ridden' JBC abolished
Santiago, meanwhile, also thinks the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) should be abolished since it allegedly failed to insulate from politics the process of selecting people for the bench and bar.
Instead, the selection process should be given back to the Senate through the Commission on Appointments, Santiago said.
She hopes that if and when the Constitution is amended, the JBC will lose the power to pick from the nominees for chief justice. In the present set-up, the council vets all nominees, conducts interviews and submits a shortlist to the President, who cannot appoint anyone outside of that JBC list.
“My proposal is even more drastic...Let’s just return that power to the Senate as they do it in the United States...since anyway the rationale for the JBC was to prevent politics from penetrating the screening of judicial nominees.. That has already happened so it [council] has not fulfilled its mandate and it is just as politics-ridden as it was before.
So I think that we have experimented enough with the JBC [and] that we have to abolish it in the next constitution."
She is cool to the decision to air live the interviews with the nominees for the next chief justice to replace Renato Corona, who was ousted last May 29 on a 20-3 vote by the Senate acting as an impeachment court. Santiago was one of the three senators voting to acquit him.
“You can’t really tell how intelligent and how experienced a person is if he is appearing before the TV cameras. All that you will be able to get is the impression of who is the more telegenic or who is more well versed in dealing with the camera. There are very, very many inhibited and introverted intellectuals, particularly if they are of the quality of those who will become CJ. It might not be fair to those who grow tongue-tied, for example, in front of the TV,” Santiago said.