MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) - President Aquino convinced Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, during a recent meeting, to accept her nomination as Chief Justice.
A Palace source and a government official privy to the President's consultations for the CJ position told Rappler that De Lima is among President Aquino's top choices for the job.
On Sunday, July 1, De Lima announced that she is accepting the CJ nomination. In a statement she said, "After a deeper reflection and further consultations with my family and close confidants, and amidst my initial hesitance and apprehensions, I now feel that I will be up to the challenge and will now take on the challenge."
"What the judiciary needs is an effective and trusted leader. That, to me, is the call of the times," she stressed.
Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda confirmed that on Friday, June 29, De Lima and President Aquino met before a Cabinet meeting but that they were with Budget Secretary Florencio "Butch" Abad and Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo. Lacierda said he was unaware when De Lima and the President talked about the CJ post.
When asked about this meeting with the President, De Lima confirmed to Rappler's editor-at-large, Marites Vitug, that there was one, stressing that it was not a "heart-to-heart talk."
"[It was] just a brief talk with the President saying he will respect my decision," she said.
President Aquino has up to end of August to appoint the new chief justice after his government put its weight behind the historic impeachment of former Chief Justice Renato Corona in May.
Monday, July 2, also marks the deadline for nominations to the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) which will vet nominees from whom the President will choose the next chief justice.
An official privy to the President's consultations about his choice for the CJ post said that, in an earlier meeting between De Lima and the President, the justice secretary reportedly told him that he should just choose from among the incumbent Supreme Court justices.
Two SC justices have so far accepted their nominations to the post: Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio, albeit informally, and Associate Justice Arturo Brion, who informed the JBC about it.
Last Friday, June 29, Carpio announced in a speech in Clark in Pampanga that he "will not turn down the challenge to lead the judiciary," hinting he would accept the nomination. As the most senior justice in the High Tribunal, Carpio was automatically nominated to the vacant post.
President Aquino had said he was looking for "outsiders," essentially excluding Carpio and the other senior Supreme Court justices.
President Aquino reportedly has reservations about Carpio, given the justice's links to the CVC law firm, or Villaraza Cruz Marcelo & Angangco. Carpio was among the founders of the firm, which was influential in the Ramos and Arroyo administrations.
According to a government insider, Executive Secretary Pacquito Ochoa also reportedly pointed out to the President that De Lima is too associated with President Aquino.
But to justify bypassing Carpio and other SC justices, President Aquino needed a "heavyweight," the same source said. De Lima's initial refusal and the lack of any heavyweight in the initial list of outsiders prompted the JBC to extend the original June 18 deadline to July 2.
President Aquino then considered Sen Frank Drilon who was promptly nominated.
Drilon, one of the senator-judges who convicted Corona and is the vice-chairperson of President Aquino's Liberal Party, immediately refused to accept the nomination.
After Drilon's refusal, the President again tried to persuade De Lima to accept the nomination.
Another senior Palace official told Rappler, "The least you can say is that she is an option. Whether she is going to be IT remains to be seen."
Palace insiders say the top choices for the CJ post have been pared down to two: De Lima and recently named Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza.
Jardeleza, who once applied for a seat in the Supreme Court in 2011, is reportedly being pushed by the bloc of Vice President Jejomar Binay and Sen Chiz Escudero.
Jardeleza is considered a dark horse in this race.
Last week, he told Rappler after oral arguments in a case involving the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co (PLDT) he would announce his response to the nomination on Monday, July 2.
When asked if he has talked to President Aquino regarding the CJ post, he replied, "No comment."- Rappler.com, with reports from Purple Romero
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