Secretary Leila M. De Lima, who accepted her nomination for the post of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, asked the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) last Friday, July 13, to expedite the summary disposition and dismissal of two consolidated complaints filed by lawyers Ricardo Rivera, Fernando Perito, and Nephtali Aliposa, and another complaint filed by Agustin Sundiam, on the ground that the complaints are patently not meritorious. According to DeLima, "The Rules of Court on the discipline of attorneys explicitly states that upon the filing of the complaint and the answer, the IBP investigator or commissioner may recommend the summary dismissal of the complaint to the IBP Board of Governors based on the pleadings filed."
De Lima added that "In fact, until a complaint for bar discipline has hurdled this requirement of a preliminary finding of merit by the IBP investigator, there is yet no regular administrative case to speak of within the contemplation of the JBC rules on disqualification, since not every Tom Dick and Harry can just file an administrative complaint against any candidate for Chief Justice and thereby frustrate that person's chances with the JBC. Otherwise, the JBC selection process will be hostage to these kind of political harassment and blackmail cases if every frivolous and baseless complaint against the candidates for Chief .Justice is entertained. Instead, these complaints should be considered based on D1erit, the political harassment cases seen for what they are, and summarily disposed of accordingly."
The consolidated cases of Rivera, Perito, and Aliposa arose from the GMA Watch List Order (WLO) case pending with the Supreme Court, with the Iawyers accusing De Lima of defying the Supreme Court TRO issued in said case. De Lima explains that "All of a sudden, some lawyers are ignorant of the basic provisions of the Rules of Court, that a TRO only becomes effective when it is officially served upon the party enjoined, and not through an announcement in the media via a press conference, as was done in the GMA/WLO case." De Lima officially received the Supreme Court TRO on November 16, 2011, a day after the attempted flight from the country of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo at the NATA on the evening of November 15, 2011.
"Moreso, the TRO was conditional, and the Supreme Court later declared that GMA failed to comply with one condition stated in the TRO" De Lima added. On November 18, 2011, the Supreme Court issued an order directing the former President and First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo to first conlply with the conditions of the November 15, 2011 TRO. 'This just goes to show that, at the time the former President attempted to leave the country, not only was the TRO not yet served, the question of its effectivity was also far from unequivocal. Thus, it is not so much a question of defiance on [my] part, but of a premature and hurried attempt to leave the country on the part of the former President who, at the time, has yet to fully comply with the conditions imposed in the issuance of the TRO. Tumatakas talaga siya. Siya ang nagmamadaling makalabas ng Pilipinas kahit hindi po malinaw ang pagcomply niya sa mga kondisyon ng TRO. Hindi ang Ggobyerno ang nagmatigas, sl GMA ang pumupuslit" De Lima said.
GMA was arrested on the same day the Court ordered her to comply with the conditions of the TRO. The arrest warrant v'as issued by the Pasay City RTC on charges of electoral sabotage filed against GMA earlier in the day.
The consolidated complaints against De Lima arising from her "defiance" of the TRO, as wen as the Sundiam complaint) vvere originally filed with the Supreme Court) but eventually referred to the IBP "for investigation. Report and recommendation thereon x x x." The IBP Board of Governors determines cases of bar discipline filed against lawyers.
As to the Sundiam complaint, De Lima also asked for its outright dismissal because it failed to "specifically allege the facts constituting the offense committed." Sundiam filed his complaint claiming that De Lima disrespected then Chief Justice Corona when she reiterated President Aquino's speech against the Chief Justice delivered at the National Criminal Justice Summit in Manila Hotel on December 5, 2011.
"Sundiam asked the Court to take judicial notice of my alleged statements. However, the Supreme Court cannot take judicial notice of every public official's statements. Evidence is ahvays provided hy the parties. A complainant cannot ask the Supreme Court to provide the evidence against me. He has to make the effort to do his research and present the same before the Court. This only goes to show that the complaint filed by this lawyer from Lubao, Pampanga, the hometown of the former President) is not even serious, but a mere political harassment case, as show'n by the lack of effort of the complainant Sundiam to even conduct decent research and legal preparation
for the filing of his complaint."
De Lima laments the fact the SC failed to promptly dispose of the disbarment complaints and had fonvarded the records of the cases to the IBP only last July 3, or the day after the July 2 deadline for the CJ nomination.
"These kinds of complaints are properly disposed of summarily, lest tlle JBC proceedings are held hostage by lawyers who can disqualify candidates by the mere act of filing administrative complaints against them, in order to favor other candidates" De Lima concluded.
De Lima also defended herself against oppositions directly filed with the ,JBC by Atty. Firdausi I.Y. Abbas purportedly representing he Muslim Bar Association, and Ignacio Nepomuceno. Both opposed Dc Lima's nomination saying she cannot he independent of President Aquino if she becomes Chief Justice.
In her letter to the .lBC dated 10 July 2012, De Lima said "Then I accepted the nomination to the post of Chief Justice, I did so fully knowing that, if and when I am. appointed, I would be assuming a post from which people expect the highest level of independence in relation to the two other branches of government, which vvould, conceivably and most probably, place me in situations where I n1ay have to take a stand against one or both, even against the President who appointed me as Chief Justice. I would not have acceptted such nomination if I weren't confident in myself that I have the strength of character to stand my ground. No matter what post I hold in government, the highest and most transcendental consideration I will hold above all else is one and the same: the principle that Public Service is a Public Trust; and neither fear nor favor will change that".
De Lima concludes that "the objections they have raised are not grounds for disqualification, but mere unfounded apprehensions 'vhich I have proven, tinle and again in the past, to be merely speculative, from the very moment I buckled down to begin performing the serious work of public service".