Escudero: JBC rules on SALN submission changed before Sereno's application

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 12) — Senator Francis "Chiz" Escudero finally speaks up on the issue of relaxing the rules of the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) on the submission of the Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net worth (SALN) of applicants for Chief Justice.

This matter was brought up in the impeachment proceedings of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno at the House of Representatives Monday.

JBC officials testified that it was Escudero who moved to change the rule on SALNs and allowed Sereno to submit only some of her papers. Under the changed rules, "substantial compliance" on the submission of SALNs was enough.

Escudero was a JBC member from 2008 to 2013.

Based on the minutes of the JBC meetings, the senator recalled the rules were relaxed for all applicants and this was done even before Sereno applied for Chief Justice.

He said, "Kung naalala ko, narelax yung rules sa lahat ng aplikante nun, at pagkatapos nun hindi lamang kay Chief Justice Sereno. That was not even for the position of Chief Justice but ordinary Justice na inapply namin sa ibang applicants din for Justice at that time. Kung nabago ang rule, hindi ko alam. The minutes are there for everybody's perusal."

[Translation: From what I remember, the rules were relaxed for all applicants, and after that not only for Chief Justice Sereno. That was not even for the position of Chief Justice but ordinary Justice that we also applied for other applicants for Justices at the time. If the rules changed, I did not know. The minutes are there for everybody's perusal.]

Escudero added, "Kasi may ilang mga aplikante nun na nagtatrabaho sa gobyerno 20 years ago, 15 years ago, tapos sporadic – patalon-talon iba't ibang mga ahensiya na wala na silang record o hindi na nila makuha yung kopya ng kanilang SALN nung mga panahong yun. Yun ang naging basehan ng mahabang dskusyon kung pa'no nga lumabas yung substantial compliance.

[Translation: There were some applicants who worked for government 20 years ago, 15 years ago and they were sporadic – moving from one agency to the other where they had no record or they were unable to get a copy of their SALN during those times. That was the basis for the long discussion about how substantial compliance came about.]

Escudero said the decision in favor of substantial compliance was a matter of record and anyone could check it.

The senator even denied that he initiated relaxing JBC rules.

He stated, “No. It was a topic already being discussed. It was a long debate and being carried on for several minutes already. The situation was there because again, Justice Abad was not able to submit all of his SALNs in the years he was in government. So that was when it was discussed.”

Lawyer Larry Gadon, who filed the impeachment complaint against Sereno, earlier said Escudero could be charged for changing the JBC rules.

The JBC is a Constitutionally-created body that is tasked with recommending appointees to the Judiciary and the Office of the Ombudsman for the President’s perusal. The council aims to enhance the quality of the search, screening, and selection process, as well as insulate the process from undue influence of any kind.