MANILA, Philippines - Could disbarment complaints cost Justice Secretary Leila de Lima her chance at being the next chief justice? Procedural intricacies show that they would not.
Rappler learned that neither of the two disbarment complaints filed against her in 2011 exist in the records of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP), thus no full-blown regular administrative case could be considered as grounds to disqualify her from her bid for the top post at the Supreme Court.
Under Rule 4, Sec.5 of the Judicial and Bar Council, the body that vets aspirants to the judiciary to the President, a regular disbarment complaint is considered grounds for disqualification. But note that this will ony apply when the complaint has become a "regular" or full-blown administrative case. A contender cannot be disqualified, however, if the disbarment complaint against her is still in its preliminary investigation stage.
In De Lima's case, the disbarment complaint has not been even formally referred to the IBP yet. Hence, the IBP has nothing to act on.
"We checked our records, there's none," IBP president Roan Libarios told Rappler when asked if there are pending disbarment cases against De Lima. "IBP has not received any formal complaint or any formal referral."
He explained that there are two bodies that handle these complaints in the IBP - the Commission on Bar Discipline and the Board of Governors. "There are no pending cases against De Lima in both," he said.
Libarios said they checked their records after former SC spokesman Jose Midas Marquez said in April that the SC has ordered the IBP to look at the disbarment complaints filed against De Lima by lawyers Ricardo Rivera and Augusto Sundiam.
Rivera said De Lima should be disbarred for defying the temporary restraining order issued by the Supreme Court in November 2011, which enjoined her from implementing a travel ban against former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and her husband, lawyer Jose Miguel 'Mike' Arroyo.
De Lima prohibited the two from leaving the country because they were under preliminary investigation for their alleged involvement in reported cheating in the 2007 senatorial elections.
Sundiam, on the other hand, said De Lima should be disbarred because of her stinging statement against then Chief Justice Renato Corona, whom she called a "tyrant who holds himself above justice and accountabiltiy" on Dec 5, 2011 on national television. Corona was impeached by the House of Representatives weeks after for betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the 1987 Constitution.
Sundiam cited the Code of Professional Responsibility and the Rules of Court which state that lawyers must “observe and maintain the respect and dignity due to the courts of justice and judicial officers.”
Off the hook?
The IBP normally has 30 days to assess the merits of the complaint and submit its recommendations to the SC. The SC may or may not adopt the IBP's recommendations.
Now that De Lima has no pending disbarment cases before the IBP, is she off the hook? The answer is no. Libarios said the SC, on its own, can decide on the disbarment cases against De Lima.
But Libarios said it will be more of an exception than the rule. He said the SC normally refers the complaints to the IBP and waits for its recommendation.
SC acting spokeswoman Ma. Victoria Gleoresty Guerra agreed, saying the SC usually transmits disbarment complaints to the IBP first.
De Lima is reportedly a favored candidate of President Benigno Aquino III for the highest post in the judiciary. Rappler.com
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