THE APPOINTMENT of Teresita Leonardo-De Castro as Chief Justice is done. Since she has all the required qualifications and none of the disqualifications, it looks pointless to question her having been chosen by President Duterte.
The earlier we accept the fact of her being the Chief Justice until she retires on Oct. 8, six short weeks from today, the better for everybody’s equanimity.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said De Castro was chosen on the basis of “seniority” – which needed some explanation for many laymen who wondered: “Is seniority based on birth date, date appointed to SC, number of years served in the SC/judiciary, moral and intellectual ascendancy over peers, physical condition, or what?”
We asked retired Sandiganbayan justice Raoul V. Victorino. He said: “Seniority in the Supreme Court is based on the date of appointment and therefore the number of years served in the Court. The earliest incumbent appointee is the most senior and the last appointee is the most junior.
“The presumption is all the incumbents have intellectual prowess, proven integrity and probity, and independence. All things being equal, seniority becomes the basis for the appointment. It is up for you to judge whether that is fair or right basis.”
Ambassador Teddy Locsin Jr., Philippine permanent representative to the United Nations: “It’s appointment.” Lawyer Romy Macalintal: “Yes, it is seniority by appointment… Carpio was appointed way ahead of De Castro, but she is older so she will retire before Carpio.”
The Constitution (Sec. 7, Art. VIII) says an SC justice, including the chief justice, must be a natural-born Filipino, at least 40 years old, and have been a judge of a lower court or engaged in the practice of law in the Philippines for at least 15 years.
De Castro satisfies all those requirements, and is the most senior SC member, except for Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio who declined his nomination to the top post.
We heard from those who had dealt with De Castro that she is tough, strict and straight, evincing the basic qualities required of all members of the judiciary to be “of proven competence, integrity, probity, and independence” Sec. 7(3).
But she has only six weeks at the helm until she retires at age 70 on Oct. 8? She may not be able do all that she has set out to do, but we cannot prejudge future performance. As one challenged congressman once said, “We will to see.”
Was De Castro’s appointment a “reward” for voting on sensitive cases the way the President wanted her to vote? That calls for an unfair, unproved assumption. A reading of her opinions will help explain her position on the issues.
In short, let Chief Justice De Castro and the rest of us go to work. The administrative reform backlog in the judiciary alone that she mentioned in her interview with the Judicial and Bar Council is staggering.
• To await or to hasten the collapse?
WE CAN almost hear the clamor of the crowd waiting outside the wall for the fall, politically or physically, of President Duterte. The scene is not unlike the macabre vigil for a terminally ill patient to give up the ghost.
The ghoulish watch is fueled by the dearth of dependable data on the true state of health of the President, an information vacuum worsened by the waning credibility of his town criers whose announcements invariably need validation.
In fact, the word of the President itself has lost much of its value, as he keeps adlibbing from one topic to another, sometimes flipping on major statements, in the same way that his managers appear to improvise from one crisis to another.
Some of the big issues that he has been juggling – such as relations with China, the infrastructure building frenzy, the bloody anti-narcotics drive – cast a big shadow on the macro picture but do not have much immediate impact on the masses.
At the moment, these items are not as politically lethal as the gut issues of rising prices of essential goods, stagnant wages, eroded purchasing power, spreading self-rated hunger, corruption, police brutality, traffic madness and crippling natural disasters.
With the administration’s credibility having been impaired by ineffective public information and the divisive and abusive language being used by government communicators, the effort to nip the growing disenchantment is becoming difficult.
Sensing a slight shifting in the public pulse, many watchers are speculating on a possible tipping point in the months before the May 2019 midterm election.
From where we sit, however, we see that while there are signs of growing disenchantment, the political opposition is hobbled by many deficiencies, including the absence of a rallying figure to unite the disparate anti-Duterte forces.
Until that man or woman emerges, takes center stage and seizes the moment, the unfolding events hinting of a possible upheaval are reduced to a mere waiting game.
Waiting for the right time – as Duterte himself, quoting Ecclesiastes 3, sometimes suggests of human action – has its value, but for how long?
It was in this context that we posted on Twitter the other day: “Sa mga naiinip: Sabi ng isang matanda sa aming barrio, ang bahay na lubos nang inanay o binukbok, sa kinalaunan kusa na lang bagbagsak kahit di na yugyugin.”
A house overrun by termites will soon collapse on its own even without being shaken.
ERRATUM: Last Sunday we mistakenly referred to Utrecht as the Dutch capital. We apologize for the error. The capital of the Netherlands under its Constitution is Amsterdam, with The Hague as its seat of government. The slip was corrected in our website ManilaMail.com.
The fourth paragraph of our Aug. 25 Postscript should have read: “The President either did not know or he forgot that Sison was enjoying asylum status in the Netherlands, not in Norway — which is another country whose capital (Oslo) is some 1,250 kilometers (driving) north of the Dutch capital of Amsterdam.”