By Jarius Bondoc
The Philippine Star
Perhaps the silliest argument against making Antonio Carpio Chief Justice is that he is a foe of the dismissed Renato Corona. That it is being raised by one of Corona’s three acquitters hints at its intent. Could it be that the appointer of a new CJ is being swayed to choose only from among Corona’s so-called “clique of seven or eight justices”?
Carpio was mentioned along with two hopefuls, Justice Sec. Leila de Lima and BIR chief Kim Jacinto Henares. A case possibly can be made against the two. They had testified against Corona in the trial of the first-ever impeached CJ. To name them to the post would leave a bad taste in the mouth. Senators Franklin Drilon or Francis Escudero too had been cited as probable CJ. But being among the 20 senators to convict Corona, they quickly, aptly expressed disinterest.
Corona during his trial had claimed that Carpio’s former law firm was among those behind his impeachment. At one point he said that “the enmity and rivalry (between them is) common knowledge.” But that was just one side — later proven a falsifier of sworn assets — speaking. Carpio, throughout the torturous exposure of his compadre, and college and work chum Corona, had kept silent. To react would have divided and put to ridicule the Supreme Court. It was Corona who, in trial defense, let known the animosities that marked his Chief Justiceship. He admitted to snubbing the nomination of a retired colleague as Ombudsman because he felt they “were not allies.” Incidentally Corona the condemned wealth hider now brags to have set, hear this, a higher standard of transparency in public service.
Magistrates are expected to speak only through their decisions, dissents or occasional lectures, and to socialize sparingly if at all. This is to avoid any tinge of partiality or impropriety. Yet some are seen nightly hopping from one cocktail party to another. Not Carpio. It would be best to judge him by his judicial rulings. (See Marites Vitug’s Shadow of Doubt, and researches in Rappler.com by Purple Romero.) Among these are:
• disallowing in 2005 a private corporation, foreign at that, from acquiring reclaimed, alienable land of the public domain;
• dissenting in 2006 that the transfer of a rapist American GI from jail to the US embassy was okay under the RP-US visiting forces pact;
• penning in 2007 to reject a private firm’s belated multibillion-peso claim against the state’s toll ways agency;
• dissenting last March 2012 from disquieting millions of lot titles in former friar lands in Luzon and the Visayas;
• penning in 2006 to strike down a contrived people’s initiative to rewrite the Constitution;
• declaring unconstitutional Malacañang’s ceding in 2008 of territory to Moro separatists; and
• contesting in 2008 Cabinet member Romy Neri’s use of executive privilege to hide then-President Gloria Arroyo’s role in a $200-million kickback in the $329-million NBN-ZTE deal.
In the latter three Carpio voted against the interest of his former boss and appointer Arroyo. That’s the way it should be. The Constitution states in Article VIII, Judicial Department, Section 7-(3): “A Member of the Judiciary must be a person of proven competence, integrity, probity, and independence.”
Carpio has disregarded personal ties, even when his Sigma Rho college fraternity mates are concerned. He voted to dismiss two such brods, Court of Appeals justices Elvi Asuncion for graft and Vicente Roxas for dereliction of duty. Several times he decided against big clients of the ACCRA law firm, founded and managed mostly by other brods. Members of his old law firm Carpio Villaraza Cruz (now Villaraza Cruz Marcelo & Angangco) know him enough not to be counted on for legal succor. He inhibits himself from deliberations of their cases. Other justices reportedly dislike his refusal to trade cases, that is, to vote for their ponencias in exchange for their voting for his.
Carpio even ruled against his own interest in May 2010. He was the most senior associate justice and frontrunner to succeed then-retiring CJ Reynato Puno. But he stood with the minority that Arroyo would be violating the Constitution if she named a replacement during the election ban. Although automatically considered a candidate-CJ, being among the five most senior associates, he declined the nomination. That paved the way for the midnight appointment of the second most senior, the friend who called him an adversary.
President Noynoy Aquino was among the senators in 2010 who opposed the midnight appointment, in vain. He has since said of Carpio: “In some cases we agree; in others we don’t.” Perhaps their strongest points of oneness are in Carpio’s:
• resistance to the 2010 quashing of Aquino’s Truth Commission;
• voting in 2011 against the restraint on the House of Reps from impeaching then-Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez; and
• dissenting in the 2011 restraint on the justice department’s travel watch on spouses Gloria and Mike Arroyo.
In 2005 Carpio led in declaring unconstitutional the Mining Act of 1995 for not collecting just shares from profits of mining firms. The SC eventually reversed itself, but Carpio stood his ground and dissented. Today, to correct the law’s lapse, the Aquino administration is imposing a five-percent government cut in mining revenues.
A point of disagreement is in Carpio’s dissent against Aquino’s appointment of temporary officials other than governor of the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao.
If Carpio is appointed CJ, there would then be a vacancy for another associate justice. Prominently mentioned are law school dean Amado Valdez and prominent lawyer Katrina Legarda. Having been nominated before, both already have passed interviews and psychiatric tests.
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Selecting the next CJ: Insider or outsider?
By Jarius Bondoc
The Philippine Star
Removing Chief Justice Renato Corona took all of five months, cost P6 million in public money, and delayed urgent legislation. Still it was the easy part. The harder task is reforming the Judiciary. This would include undoing the so-called “Corona clique” in the Supreme Court, punishing unfair judges, and accounting for judicial funds. Only then can the people’s trust be restored in the third co-equal branch of government.
Success would depend on selecting the right Chief Justice. Should it be a Supreme Court insider, or an outsider from the Judiciary?
Arguments are preponderant for an insider. Foremost is urgency. A sitting justice already would know the problems, the processes, even the politics inside the Judiciary. An outsider would need familiarization with the situation, on top of the administrative workload. President Noynoy Aquino has four years left to his reform program. In the Judiciary the reforming would start with his crucial choice for CJ.
A magistrate already has track record. By his decrees and dissents can be discerned his stand on crucial issues. These include the economy, labor, patrimony, sovereignty, religion, environment, agrarian reform, human rights, and many more. Verifiable is whether he truly is of integrity and probity, as the Constitution requires of justices. Too, if he has been competent and independent in judging. From thence could be foreknown the direction of his Chief Justiceship. An outsider lawyer may have notched countless court victories, but from shifting advocacies.
An outsider as CJ inescapably would be labeled a political appointee. For, he would be jumping the line ahead of the five most senior justices, who automatically are considered for the vacancy. As well, of the nine other associate justices.
Picking an outsider can be and has been done, to be sure. But it would be chancy at this point in history. Suspicion would hobble an outsider CJ that Aquino indeed took out Corona in order to control the Judiciary. More so, if that CJ comes from his Cabinet or party or financiers. Even the most brilliant would be branded a partisan. The outsider CJ would have lost even before the fight began.
But if an insider becomes CJ, there would be a vacancy for associate justice. Perhaps two vacancies, if reports come true of the soon retirement of a sickly justice. To those non-controversial posts can be appointed outsiders, who can have ample time to grow into the job.
Choosing an insider not only would ease strains between the Judiciary and the Executive spawned by Corona’s ouster. It also would preserve the tradition of seniority in the Judiciary. Seniority, displayed in the seating arrangement in en banc sessions or the listing of justices’ names in rulings, has its pluses. It instantly imbues respect and weight. That is why the most senior justices automatically are considered for a vacant Chief Justiceship. Going against seniority would demoralize long-serving justices, and discourage career options in the Judiciary. Lacking seniority, an outsider’s leadership and intentions would be open to constant challenge by associates.
Not just any insider can be CJ. He must not be a cohort of the “Corona clique,” which one senator counts as seven or eight associates. The insider would know who they are, and how to disband them.
The insider CJ must know what rackets thrive in the Judiciary. Foremost perhaps is the TRO-for-sale. By issuing – for a fee – temporary restraining orders or, worse, permanent injunctions, judges thwart justice. The moneyed are favored, the poor degraded. A twin malady is the reversal of rulings, not for earthshaking but flimsy – probably also paid – reasons. And there’s the non-promulgation or non-execution of decisions, which renders them worthless after hard-won court battles. The insider must have courage to eradicate rackets.
The insider CJ must be transparent not only with his wealth, but more with Judiciary spending. Full disclosure and accounting are needed of the Judicial Development Fund, the Special Assessment Fund, and the Supreme Court’s World Bank loan. The insider CJ must have shunned any financial shenanigan. That way, he can have moral suasion stop fund misuse in lower courts, such as the unauthorized disbursement of cash savings as bonuses.
The Transparency and Accountability Network suggests opening the CJ candidates’ interviews to media coverage. That would encourage public participation in the vetting. Pretenders would be exposed. The Judicial and Bar Council would be sharper, instead of soft, in screening the applicants.
Aquino sees himself a reformist. Presumably he has shared his ideals with Vice President Jejomar Binay. Too, he must have relayed to co-equals but elders, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., his vision of change. Now he must pick, from the JBC short list, the top magistrate and fifth highest official of the land. Should he not pick one whom he knows is superior in law and proven to be self-determining, yet shares his reformism? Imagine if the five highest officials, running the three co-equal branches, aim for the same goal: a great Philippines.
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