Leila M. De Lima Next Philippine Chief Justice?

Justice Secretary Leila M. De Lima Tuesday said she will seek available remedy if disqualified as a nominee to the post of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

During the panel interview, carried live on nationwide television, De Lima told the JBC the time is not on her side when it comes to the resolution of her disbarment case.

“Judicial independence does not begin and end with independence of the SC, but must also be present in lower courts,” De Lima said.

De Lima noted the lower courts are the first line of defense against injustices.

“Judiciary personnel should not have to be dependent on outside bodies,” De Lima said.

When asked by Iloilo City (5th District) Rep. Niel Tupas, Jr., an ex-officio member of the JBC, De Lima said the pending cases against her have not hurdled preliminary determination of merit.

“Public disclosure on certain cases should be encouraged,” De Lima said.

However, De Lima stressed there are really cases that go beyond the 60-day prescribed period of disposition.

“We are trying to improve the disposition rate in our institution,” De Lima said.

“Our target disposition rate is 85 per cent. My personal target is a zero backlog,” she added.

De Lima said illegal orders and decisions are not worthy of obedience.

She said she filed a letter to the JBC last week, saying only pending administrative cases should not be considered as ground for disqualification.

“Cases pending before the IBP (Integrated Bar of the Philippines) have not yet ripened into regular administrative cases,” she said.

“We used to have the impression that the SC can never do wrong, but it has been proven that it’s not as infallible as we think it is,” De Lima told the JBC.

De Lima said her being young is an advantage such that she would have the opportunity, energy and dynamism to institute long term reforms in the Judiciary.

“My alleged closeness to President Aquino remains to be just a speculation. It does not mean I will be beholden to him,” De Lima said.

When asked by Aurora Santos Lagman, JBC member representing the private sector, De Lima said she will infuse a higher degree of tolerance in terms of contempt powers in the sub judice rule.

“It’s all about putting the right people in the position,” De Lima said.

De Lima told the JBC the selection process for the next Chief Justice should not consider political endorsements.

“Gender equality is not a question of numbers in the Judiciary,” De Lima said.

She said the selection of the next Chief Justice should be based on who is more suited and competent for the job.

“I’ve never really been a politician. I don’t know if I will even fit in,” De Lima said.

When asked by Atty. Jose V. Mejia, JBC member representing the academe, De Lima said she will try to make sure that she decides correctly and fight for the right decision.

De Lima said that the average load of DOJ’s prosecutors is around 600 to 700 cases per year.

“I did not defy the SC TRO (temporary restraining order). It’s not a question of defiance. It was a matter of having the former president prematurely trying to leave the country,” De Lima said.

She said that there are actions of the SC that tend to lose the people’s faith in the Judiciary.

“The challenge now is to restore the public’s complete trust and confidence in the Judiciary,” De Lima said.

She said that the Chief Justice should not be perceived as someone who is unreachable and untouchable.

“Being a Chief Justice is not a matter of having numerous academic credentials. It is about character,” De Lima said.

As a lady Chief Justice, De Lima said, she would have the passion to discharge the mandate conscientiously.

“The next Chief Justice should be the face which embodies the ideals of an independent institution. It’s imperative for Chief Justice to perform well,” she said.

De Lima said that there are more needs to be done to increase the public’s faith in the judicial system, adding that, “I hope to do this.”

When asked on corruption in the Judiciary, De Lima said that “We need to be able to achieve judicial independence in its fullest extent.”

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