Wednesday, December 13, 2017
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The best candidate for chief justice

Note to the Reader: I was out of the country from May 16 to May 31, hence no columns during that period. I promise to deal with important events that took place in that span—particularly the conviction of Chief Justice Renato Corona—after I have read all the documents.

With the conviction and removal of Chief Justice Renato Corona from office, attention has turned to the choice of his successor. Who should be the next chief justice?

As far as I am concerned, the Judicial and Bar Council, which is charged with the responsibility of submitting to the President a short list of three nominees from which he will make his choice, needn’t look farther than the end of its nose, at least as far as the best candidate is concerned: Acting Chief Justice Antonio T. Carpio.

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I take this position notwithstanding fears and accusations that: (1) while Carpio was in private practice, he and/or his firm—also known as “The Firm”—were buying judges and their decisions, and that he is still very closely associated with it; (2) that Carpio, while in government (he served as legal counsel for the Ramos administration) was on the take; (3) that Carpio was actually behind the campaign to oust Corona, “his enemy,” from office; and (4) that he is President Aquino’s man, just as Corona was known as President Gloria Arroyo’s man.

The first set of accusations most probably has bases, if only because one can count on one’s fingers and toes (and maybe not even get to the toes), the law firms who do not engage in this practice; it is an open secret that this is SOP. So if Carpio is to be excluded from consideration as chief justice on this count, so will practically everybody else, alas. What is important is that the records will show that he has, since he took his oath as an associate justice, recused himself from any case where his former law firm is involved.

The second set of accusations, upon further investigation, does not seem to have any basis in fact. In one example that was given to me of his alleged corruption (the PEA-Amari case), it turns out that as a Supreme Court justice, his decision was to declare the PEA-Amari contract null and void. At the same time, a senior government official during that period, whom I consider unimpeachable, tells me that in every case that her agency brought to Carpio for an opinion, it was given only after careful study and hearing of both sides; he never came to the table just to look for justifications for an opinion already arrived at.

The third set of accusations I tend to dismiss entirely, the accuser apparently being Corona himself, whose testimony, unhappily, may be impeachable.

And the final set of accusations has to be pure speculation. I can think of no reason Carpio should be at the President’s beck and call. In any case, Carpio’s performance in the Supreme Court is proof positive that he is his own man. He ruled against the PEA-Amari deal, which was forged by the Ramos administration, which he served, and he has either been the ponente in cases where the Arroyo administration was ruled against, or dissented in cases where the ruling was in favor of Arroyo. It was Arroyo who appointed Carpio to the Supreme Court. Sources (credible) tell me that if a total accounting is to be made, his opinions have been 55-45 against Arroyo. Maybe Marites Vitug should be consulted on this one.

In any case, a young lawyer whose opinion on Carpio I asked may have encapsulized the issue of where he stands in one sentence: “Everyone always thinks he is on the other side.”  Meaning, he cannot be pigeonholed. His loyalty seems to be to the law, rather than to people.  As it should be.

The fears/accusations against Carpio having been dispensed with, let us now turn to what his actual performance has been in the Supreme Court. Reader, please understand where I am coming from. I do not consider myself to be Justice Carpio’s friend, or even a close acquaintance. Our acquaintance is of the most casual; I know his wife only slightly (although she is my sorority sister). I was in fact initially not positively disposed toward him, having heard all the juicy rumors about the (Carpio) Villaraza law firm (which, by the way, rumors have it, has been displaced by Executive Secretary Jojo Ochoa’s law firm, where, even more deliciously, Bongbong Marcos’ wife is supposed to be a partner).

But I have read his opinions, whether majority or dissenting, in a number of cases which I followed closely because of their importance to either the Philippine economy or its polity. And I have come away deeply impressed by the clarity and logic of his thinking, the solidity of his arguments, the homework he so obviously has done. No strain to credulity, no mental gymnastics, no decision-first-justification-later.

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Moreover, as Tony La Viña of the Ateneo School of Government puts it, “He is consistently on the right side of environmental social justice and public accountability cases.” Some of these opinions I have written about, and I invite the Readers to refresh their memories—from people’s initiative to Radstock, to Koko Pimentel, to La Bugal and mining, to martial law.

But wait. A chief justice also has to be an excellent administrator. Does Carpio have what it takes? Just ask the Supreme Court staff how he has handled the administrative tasks assigned to him. Accomplished. Soonest.

And the latest proof, of course, is how, in his first meeting en banc as acting chief justice, he led the high court in reversing its stance on the disclosure of statements of assets, liabilities and net worth.

What are we waiting for?

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TAGS: Antonio Carpio, featured column, Supreme Court Chief Justice
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