A house official on Monday said Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III was still in the race for the top Ombudsman post despite the pending criminal and administrative charges filed against him at the anti-graft agency.
At the same time, evangelical and Catholic theological educators on Monday urged the Judicial and Bar Council to reject the application of Supreme Court Associate Justice Samuel Martires to head the Office of the Ombudsman.
In a six-page opposition, 18 Catholic priests, evangelical pastors, and theological sisters said Martires lacked probity, a constitutional requirement for members of the judiciary.
They said Martires refused to inhibit himself from hearing and deciding the quo warranto case against sacked Supreme Court chief justice Maria Lourdes Sereno “showing lack of probity.”
“His patently biased line of questioning during the oral arguments on the connection between ‘mental illness’ and ‘invoking God as the source of personal strength,’ ‘God as the source of inspiration,’ ‘God as the source of happiness,’ and ‘God as the source of everything in life’ also betrays a blatant lack of respect for faith-based communities despite the clear Constitutional guarantee mandating respect for religious freedom which as a Justice of the Supreme Court he is bound to observe,” the letter read.
The document was addressed to Acting Supreme Court Chief Justice Antonio Carpio, who sits as the JBC’s ex-official chairperson.
Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali, chairperson of the House of Representatives’ committee on justice and ex-officio member of the JBC, said “Secretary Bello (is) still in the race, but with [low] priority if reports about his pending complaints are true.”
Reports said Bello could no longer be appointed or even nominated to the Ombudsman post because of his pending graft case and an administrative case for misconduct filed in 2017.
But Umali insisted that Bello was still in the race.
The JBC rules provide that those “with pending criminal or regular administrative cases” are disqualified “from being nominated for appointment to any judicial post or as Ombudsman or Deputy Ombudsman.”
Responding to the issue, Bello, a former representative of 1-BAP Party-list, shrugged off the reports that he was already disqualified from the Ombudsman race as he would still pursue his application for the top position at the Ombudsman.
Bello said the JBC rules spoke of cases pending in courts and no complaints at the Ombudsman.
“I believe the rules talk about cases and not complaints,” said Bello as he asked what happened to the disqualified candidates if the complaints against them were dismissed before the JBC voted for the candidates to be shortlisted.
Section 5 of Rule 4 of the JBC rules provide that those with pending cases are disqualified from nomination or appointment to the post.
But Umali explained that Bello’s application might be placed in the low priority because the selection process was categorized under first, second and third priority list.
Under the categories, Umali said applicants were assessed and ranked based on the pending complaints and cases, issue of competence, disqualification case, among other things.
“The chances of applicants are affected by the appreciation of the JBC members on these issues. We have first, second and third priority list,” said Umali.
Previous reports indicated that aspirants who were disqualified and were not even interviewed anymore were then acting Ombudsman Orlando Casimiro and Deputy Ombudsman for Visayas Pelagio Apostol.
Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales is scheduled to retire next month after a seven-year term.
Other candidates are Bello, lawyer Edna Herrera-Batacan, Supreme Court Associate Justice Samuel Martires, Sandiganbayan Justice Efren dela Cruz, Special Prosecutor Edilberto Sandoval, Judge Carlos Espero II, and lawyers Rey Nathaniel Ifufurung, Rainier Madrid, Felito Ramirez and Rex Rico.
They slammed Martires over his manner in questioning Sereno during the oral arguments on the quo warranto linking the mental health of Sereno, a Catholic faithful.
“The interrogatories raised by the Hon. Justice Martires cause offense because one cannot make generalizations of the overall mental health of a person based on one’s religious belief and practice,” the group said.
“To imply that [Sereno’s] religiosity is an indication of mental illness is not based on reasoned rhetoric nor judicial examination because an expert on the matter has to look at other indications,” it added.
The religious group also challenged the integrity of Martires, who was charged with three administrative cases before the Ombudsman when he was then a Sandiganbayan justice.
Martires is set to face the JBC on June 20.
The group said Martires’ stance that the late President Ferdinand Marcos Sr. was not thrown out through the Edsa People Power 1 was “disconcerting.”
Martires said Marcos “opted to leave Malacanang.”
“That a justice of the Supreme Court would insist on this revisionist interpretation of a major historical event shows a failure to meet the standard of probity,” the group said.