MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines' lawyer in its case against China, Paul Reichler, asserted that Philippine Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza is “a man of impeccable honesty and integrity” even as critics accuse Jardeleza of disloyalty to country.
Rappler sought Reichler for comment on Tuesday, August 19, after the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC), which vets nominees to the SC, said Jardeleza is accused of disloyalty to country for deleting a portion of the Philippines' pleading or memorial against China. (READ: The inside story: Jardeleza accused of disloyalty to PH)
Reichler stressed he was issuing the statement "independently" of Jardeleza's bid to become SC justice.
In a comment-reply filed before the SC on Friday, August 15, the JBC quoted Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno as saying Jardeleza lacks integrity. This is because he “deliberately sought” to exclude from the memorial “a very important physical feature” in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
Sereno, who sits as the JBC's ex-officio chair, said this feature is the Itu Aba, which is part of the Spratly Islands in the West Philippine Sea.
She “explained that the country absolutely needed to discuss this physical feature in the memorial, so much so that the international lawyers handling the case were effectively threatening to resign should the petitioner insist on excluding any discussion of Itu Aba, because to do so would be to cause the loss of the country’s claim,” according to the JBC.
“His disloyalty to his client is a lack of integrity. And when that client is the Republic of the Philippines, it is treason,” the Chief Justice said.
Eventually, however, the deleted 14-paragraph portion made it to the nearly 4,000-page memorial after Justice Secretary Leila de Lima intervened and told President Benigno Aquino III about the situation, sources said. The Philippines filed the memorial on March 30.
Still, Sereno said this is “of no moment” in Jardeleza's case because he “has already demonstrated his lack of integrity.”
Due to this accusation, the JBC excluded Jardeleza from the short list of SC nominees submitted to Aquino. Jardeleza then sought the SC's help in putting him in the short list.
On Tuesday, the SC en banc sided with Jardeleza and reinstated him in the nominees' list. Aquino has until Wednesday, August 20, to pick a new SC justice.
'Impeccable honesty, integrity'
Reichler, for his part, vouched for Jardeleza's integrity.
On Tuesday evening, the topnotch lawyer told Rappler he has “worked very closely and very harmoniously” with Jardeleza since the case against China was prepared in 2012.
“At all times I have found him to be a brilliant lawyer and a man of impeccable honesty and integrity. I consider it both a professional and a personal privilege to work with him,” Reichler said.
File photo from the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea
An international lawyer who has defended states for more than 25 years, he added that he and Jardeleza “have spent many hours together” discussing legal strategy.
Reichler said: “In these discussions, he has always been dedicated exclusively to the determination of what is best for the Philippines. After receiving the advice of international counsel, including myself, it is his duty, as Solicitor General, to provide his honest and his best opinion to the President of the Republic. I have no doubt that he has done so at all times.”
Reichler, however, distanced himself from the JBC proceedings. He said it is improper for him “to comment on internal Philippine matters unrelated to the case for which I have been retained as counsel, such as nominations to the Philippine Supreme Court.”
Alarm over Itu Aba
Rappler reported Tuesday that Reichler was alerted and alarmed over Jardeleza's initial decision to remove Itu Aba from the draft pleading against China. Sometime before March this year, he sought a meeting with Aquino to explain the issue, but did not get the chance to see him.
Rappler's sources said Reichler's written legal arguments on the Itu Aba issue were then sent to the President. The same paper was later distributed to JBC members during deliberations on the solicitor general's nomination.
In any case, “independently of” the JBC proceedings, Reichler said that he and his fellow lawyer in the Philippines' case against China, Lawrence Martin, have never thought of resigning as the Philippines' counsel.
“Neither I, nor Lawrence Martin, nor any other member of the Philippines' legal team, has ever threatened to resign as counsel, or ever contemplated resigning. There has never been a reason for any of us to entertain such a thought,” he said.
“We all consider it a great honor to represent the Philippines in the arbitration against China, and our commitments to the Philippines and the case are absolute,” he added.
A cum laude graduate from the Harvard Law School in 1973, Reichler is a partner at the 7-decade-old firm FoleyHoag in the United States. He serves as co-chair of its International Litigation and Arbitration Department.
Chambers Global said Reichler “belongs to a select group of elite lawyers with extensive experience litigating on behalf of sovereign states before the International Court of Justice in The Hague, and the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea in Hamburg.”
In 2012, he helped Nicaragua and Bangladesh win in separate boundary disputes.
“In a court, or before an arbitral tribunal, a small state that is weaker militarily, economically, commercially, has the opportunity at least to compete on equal terms with a much larger, more powerful state,” he said. – Rappler.com
Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at email@example.com.