Congress has yet to decide on who between Sen. Francis Escudero and Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas Jr. would represent the legislative branch in the Judicial and Bar Council.
The impasse remains almost one year after the Supreme Court has ruled with finality that only one representative, and not two as traditionally observed, should represent Congress in the JBC.
Neither Tupaz nor Escudero showed up during Thursday’s JBC interviews of candidates for the vacant presiding justice post at the Sandiganbayan.
“They have not resolved with definitiveness as to who will represent. Kasi in accordance with the SC decision which has become final and executory, there will only be one who should represent Congress,” said lawyer Jose Mejia, JBC regular member for the academe.
Mejia, however, added that he received information that Tupas and Escudero are already “working it out… to resolve the matter sooner or later.”
Asked if the JBC could intervene in deciding who should represent Congress, Mejia said: “It would have to be between them. They should decide themselves.”
Mejia said that as a result of the SC ruling, the required majority votes for a candidate to qualify on a JBC shortlist went down from five to four.
Mejia said even without a Congress representative, the JBC can still proceed with voting, so long as there is a quorum and the members can muster a majority of four votes.
The Supreme Court in July 17 last year sided with a petition by former Solicitor General Francisco Chavez, who questioned the current eight-member composition of the JBC.
SC Associate Justice Jose Mendoza, who penned the decision, ordered the JBC to reconstitute its membership so that Congress will only have one representative sitting as ex-officio member.
In response to the decision, Congress earlier decided to pull Escudero and Tupas out of the JBC. It said the temporary pullout will last until the issue “is clearly and correctly decided.”
Tupas and Escudero argued that the framers of the 1987 Constitution committed an oversight when they allotted only one slot for Congress in the JBC, on the assumption that a unicameral legislature would be created.
The Constitutional Commission, however, eventually decided to adopt a bicameral legislature.
The Supreme Court said the use of the singular article “a” in the particular section of the Constitution is “unequivocal and leaves no room for any other construction.”
The high court emphasized the purpose of the framers of the Constitution when they decided to place the number of JBC members at seven, an odd number.
“This serves a practical purpose, that is, to provide a solution should there be a stalemate in voting,” the high court said.
As it has been in more than a decade, the JBC is composed of eight members, including four ex-officio members representing the three branches of government, namely the chief justice (ex-officio chairman) representing the judiciary; the Justice Secretary for the executive , and the Justice committee chairpersons of the Senate and the House of Representatives representing Congress.
The remaining four members come from the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, the academe, and the private sector, as well as a retired member of the Supreme Court.
The JBC interviewed four candidates to fill up vacant posts in the judiciary and the Office of the Ombudsman. — RSJ, GMA News