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MANILA, Philippines – (Updated 5:52pm) With no objection from anyone present, the Senate on Tuesday designated Sen. Joker Arroyo to represent the chamber in the Supreme Court, which hours earlier had granted the lawmakers’ motion to hold oral arguments on the matter of representation of both Houses of Congress in the Judicial and Bar Council. Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile thanked the court for acting swiftly on its motion for oral arguments, which he said would allow for the discussion of other sticky legal issues pertaining to the JBC and its process.
The JBC, the constitutional body tasked to screen candidates for the judiciary, suspended its deliberations amid the decision by both House and Senate leaders to stop participating in the process of vetting the next Chief Justice while their motion for reconsideration of an SC ruling-- limiting to just one the representation of the bicameral Congress---is pending.
“With no objection, no negative votes, the motion appointing Sen. Joker Arroyo to represent the Senate in the oral argument before the Supreme Court is hereby approved,” Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile declared.
Sotto said that Senator Arroyo has represented the Senate a number of times in the past and is a veteran in other representations before the Supreme Court. Before becoming senator, Arroyo was three-term Makati congressman, Executive Secretary for post-EDSA President Corazon C. Aquino, and was one of the chief lawyers representing government critics during martial law.
“So, he is a pro when it comes to this. We are confident that he will be able, somehow, to change the tide as far as the perspective of some members of the SC [is concerned],” Sotto said.
Meanwhile, Arroyo refused to comment on his appointment.
The arguments, set at 9 a.m on Thursday, August 2, will be presided over by acting JBC chairman and Supreme Court Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta.
Last week, the two chambers decided not to participate in the JBC's screening of chief justice candidates until the Supreme Court resolves Congress' petition to allow one representative in the council for each House. The controversy arose after the SC, acting on a petition questioning the practice of Congress having two representatives –one each for Senate and the House—in the JBC, ruled that Congress would have only one, even though it is bicameral.
Enrile cites other issues
Besides the question of congressional representation in the JBC, Enrile said many questions should be ventilated in the oral argument, including a scenario where, if a sitting President were impeached, whether or not an acting chief justice or a senior associate justice of the Supreme Court could preside over the impeachment court. This is nowhere to be found in the 1987 Constitution.
“Second, what is meant by the phrase ex-officio member? The ex-officio member, in my view, is important. The ex-officio [JBC] member has the power to help choose those in the judiciary who will make important decisions, like punishing persons accused of crimes. Well, supposedly they’re saying the Chief Justice is the presiding officer of the JBC, and the Secretary of Justice is ex-officio member---a representative of the Executive, not a substitute. But what do we have now? A substitute for the DOJ secretary who has not even hurdled the Commission on Appointments [Malacanang designated a Palace official as representative in the JBC, because DOJ Secretary Leila de Lima is herself an SC nominee] and no Chief Justice [the most senior associate justice, Antonio Carpio, is only an acting CJ]. So all of these issues should be studied by the Supreme Court,” Enrile said.
Meanwhile, Enrile thanked the Supreme Court for granting the motion for oral arguments as he said it will ventilate the position of the Senate on the Constitutional duties of both Houses of Congress in a bicameral setting in screening candidates in the Judiciary.
“We are just presenting the opposite side of the argument in order that we can arrive at a better arrangement. Not that we would want to defy the Supreme Court, but I think it’s our duty to point out our position and if it acceptable to them, we will be grateful. If not, then [that’s that],” he said in an interview.