POSTSCRIPT / August 16, 2012 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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JBC list leaning 5-3 for an insider as CJ

PUEDE PA: All is not yet lost for Justice Secretary Leila de Lima making it to the Supreme Court and gaining a measure of protection from the consequences of her taking controversial actions for her boss the President.

If/when President Noynoy Aquino appoints a sitting justice (my fearful forecast is it will be Antonio Carpio) as Chief Justice, the vacant slot for the 15th justice in the High Court stays open.

Now if De Lima behaves and is insistent and the boss is still protective of her, she could be a shoo-in in the second-round selection. By that time the disbarment annoyance may have blown away like a passing tropical depression.

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ART OF THE IMPOSSIBLE: But that takes some doing.

First, there is no certainty that the Integrated Bar of the Philippines that is processing the disbarment cases against her will throw them out. Somebody or something must convince the IBP to treat the bullheaded secretary ever so kindly.

Second, how will the Supreme Court take De Lima’s seeking to join the very tribunal whose order (temporarily restraining the justice secretary from barring former President Gloria Arroyo from seeking medical treatment abroad) she had disregarded, disobeyed, or otherwise defied?

But, as we have noted, all is not lost. Remember that her boss the President has proclaimed that under his administration, everything is possible. Of course. Politics is the art of the impossible.

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RACE IS ON: Down the wire, as the Aug. 29 deadline draws near, eight contenders are in the race for Chief Justice.

Leading the pack is senior justice Antonio Carpio with seven votes in the eight-member nominating Judicial and Bar Council, followed by justices Roberto Abad, Arturo Brion and Ma. Lourdes Sereno with six votes together with Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza and former congressman Ronaldo Zamora. Close on their heels are justice Teresita Leonardo De Castro and former Ateneo law dean Cesar Villanueva with five votes each.

Actually, the votes do not imply any ranking. The President can pick any one of them as Chief Justice. He has until Aug. 29 to do that, or 90 days after impeached Chief Justice Renato C. Corona was removed from office.

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LAWYERS KNOW: In my view as an outsider, the best judge of who should be Chief Justice is the body of practicing lawyers in the country.

Immersed in the haphazard dispensation of justice in this benighted nation and with their direct dealings with judges and fellow lawyers, they know the magistrates who are brilliant or mediocre, honest or corrupt, fair or partial. They have an insider’s view of who should be Chief Justice.

With his anti-corruption obsession, President Aquino may want to consult active members of the bar privately. Although they do not squawk, lawyers know the judges/justices they have been bribing or influenced one material way or another.

We wish it were not unwieldy and out of order asking some 50,000 lawyers nationwide to vote for the Chief Justice!

Instead, the Constitution has assigned the JBC – whose composition is a cross-section of the judiciary, the bar and the citizenry — to list at least three nominees, with the President making the final pick from the list.

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A MESSSAGE?: The JBC nomination list sent to the President seems to carry a message from the judiciary.

The nominees consist of five sitting justices, the solicitor general, a former legislator of sterling qualifications and a former dean of the law school that has the highest passing rate in the bar examinations.

There are more in the chamber, including Associate Justice Presbyterio Velasco, holding their breath in the wings since they can still be considered should the President pass up on the eight nominees.

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SENIORITY JUNKED: The JBC list sounds like a whisper of a desired outcome, one that seeks a return to the once sacred seniority rule of the High Court that was disregarded twice by then President Arroyo.

After Chief Justice Hilario Davide retired in 2005, President Arroyo chose justice Artemio V. Panganiban to replace him although justice Reynato Puno was more senior in terms of service in the High Court.

Puno eventually made it as chief upon Panganiban’s retirement a year later. When Puno retired in 2010, President Arroyo again ignored seniority and installed Corona as Chief Justice over the head of Carpio his senior.

Btw, Corona has claimed that before his impeachment, term-sharing with Carpio was suggested to him by Malacañang but that he rejected it. That angle has not been corroborated publicly.

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INSIDE TRACK: The JBC list is top-heavy with High Court insiders. It is made more interesting with the inclusion of three respected names from outside the judiciary who can come in like a whiff of fresh air in the stuffy chamber.

The judiciary is arguably old school, which may frown at a maverick walking in, rearranging the furniture to optimize office space and bringing in high-tech equipment to clear judges’ desks of musty folders hiding their faces during trial.

We have seen how the judiciary has stood as an institution with a system and a demeanor that is deliberate and cautious. Is this conducive to the proper dispensation of justice?

We wonder if the President has sensed it, but the JBC list seems to hint that the judiciary is more comfortable with a candidate already imbedded in the system, one who breaks bread, trades anecdotes and presumably connects better with his compañeros.

Look at the JBC list again. It is 5-3 for “insiders” versus “outsiders.” But this detail is probably of no moment since by this time, the President – despite his seemingly still deliberating on his choices — has already made up his mind.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 16, 2012)

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