Human rights lawyer wants President's power to appoint Ombudsman, judges lifted

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 21) — A human rights lawyer running for a Senate seat wants to amend the Constitution to lift the President's power to appoint judges and the Ombudsman.

"The Constitution provides that he or she is appointed by the President and the same applies to our judiciary. So that's so much power, that appointing power is too much centralized in one man. That I think has to change," Otso Diretso senatorial candidate Chel Diokno told CNN Philippines' The Source on Thursday.

Diokno said he would want to introduce an amendment to the Constitution that would create a council composed of representatives of different sectors of society which would select appointees to the judiciary.

"Pwede pa rin ang Pangulo ang pipirma [ng appointment paper,] pero ano na lang 'yun, ministerial na lang. Hindi na discretionary sa kanya," he said in an interview after the show.

[Translation: The President can still sign the appointment paper, but that would just be ministerial. It would no longer be at his discretion.]

Diokno said this is the only thing that should be changed in the Constitution, but he acknowledged that introducing an amendment may open the possibility for other changes to be made.

The human rights lawyer is part of the Otso Diretso opposition coalition and the militant Makabayan bloc. Both political groups have opposed moves to change the Constitution.

Currently, the Ombudsman, justices and judges are appointed by the President from a list of at least three nominees prepared by the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) for each vacancy.

Critics have accused Duterte of influencing the judiciary, but the Malacañang has routinely denied this.

President Rodrigo Duterte and his allies in Congress have been pushing for amendments to the Constitution to shift to a federal form of government. Under proposals from the House and Duterte's consultative committee, no substantial changes have been made on the appointment of members of the judiciary.

Free up courts, lifestyle check for judges

While there are still no moves to change the Constitution to lift the President's appointment powers over members of the judiciary, Diokno said he would focus on freeing up the courts' dockets to speed up litigation.

He said vacancies for the positions of judges and prosecutors should be filled up. He also wants to establish an arbitration committee that would handle commercial and business disputes.

Diokno also wants the Ombudsman to conduct lifestyle checks on judges and justices and for members of the judiciary to be required to publish their statements of assets, liabilities and net worth.

"Kasi [Because] we have to show people that everything is aboveboard na walang lagayan at malinis ang hustisya [that no one is being bribed and justice is clean,]" he said.