The integrity of SolGen Francis Jardeleza
I was stunned when Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza was not shortlisted for the Supreme Court. I was stunned, not by the list, but by alleged doubts regarding his integrity. I cannot bear to see such a dedicated official and true patriot publicly humiliated.
Jardeleza asked for a Judicial and Bar Council member’s inhibition from the voting on the shortlist. Out of character for the low-profile, 64-year-old SolGen, who was quoted in reports as saying, “At this point in my life, I will not be bullied. Ngayon pa (Not now)!” and “No words can do justice to the anger I feel at the intemperate and inhuman attack made on my reputation.” This yawp was elicited by the still unspecified claim regarding his integrity, allegedly by a JBC member.
Jardeleza raised several due-process objections. How could he answer a charge that was never formalized, written down, or made public? If the charge was made by a JBC member, should that member not inhibit? A majority of the JBC voted to shortlist Jardeleza, but a longstanding JBC rule was invoked requiring a unanimous vote to consider a candidate whose integrity is challenged.
That no details of Jardeleza’s alleged misdeeds have emerged after days of media scrutiny speaks for itself. Four fine lawyers are on the shortlist and Quezon City Judge Reynaldo Daway must be commended for simply appearing alongside Court of Appeals Justices Apolinario Bruselas and Jose Reyes Jr. (and Commission on Audit Chair Grace Pulido-Tan). I hope they do not begrudge me for speaking of Jardeleza’s character now that he is out of the running.
I am half Jardeleza’s age so I cannot be a close friend, nor would I know much about my seniors’ personal lives. I am moved to write solely by his work. Some have cited his spectacular credentials, such as his Harvard Law degree and having been San Miguel Corp.’s general counsel. People must see, however, the gravitas he carries his office with, unmistakable if one but listens to the tapes of his recent high-court appearances or skims through his written rebuttals.
The public may not appreciate how the SolGen argues the government’s constitutional cases, but even minor nuances in Jardeleza’s work are meticulously crafted. Defending the Reproductive Health Act, he framed the case in a greater context of “decisional privacy,” of empowering poorer women to enjoy freedom of choice over their bodies. He was questioned at length by now retired justice Roberto Abad and gave textbook-perfect answers to a broad range of questions. I saw nonlawyers all the way to singer Lea Salonga retweeting his sound bites (“RH ‘Pacific Rim’: Jardeleza Duels Abad,” Opinion, 8/9/13).
He is no less professional when defending unpopular cases. He declined to defend the Cybercrime Act provision allowing the government to take down websites without a warrant and properly pushed other arguments, such as how the case was arguably premature and spam messages should not be protected by free speech. Faced with the impossible task of defending the pork barrel system, he brilliantly argued that the high court should let the politicians dismantle the system themselves, invoking legal philosopher James Bradley Thayer’s warning not to let judicial action “deaden [the electorate’s] sense of moral responsibility.”
He raises the bar of constitutional litigation at a time when it receives increasing public attention and demonstrates why the Solicitor General is with the greatest respect called an additional Supreme Court justice in the United States.
When I was student chair of UP’s Philippine Law Journal, Jardeleza was its informal patron along with classmates such as SyCip Salazar managing partner Rafael Morales and Accralaw senior partner Luis Vera Cruz. It is meaningful to a law student to see SMC’s general counsel take a personal interest in his team, speak of the journal’s grand traditions, and even donate a refrigerator for the journal office. Long before serving in the government, he devoted quality time to teaching and mentoring, and I hope I articulate the gratitude of the many young lawyers whose lives he has influenced. If I ever decide to join the government, it would be in part because of him—although who in his right mind would consider this after seeing how someone of Jardeleza’s stature can be so badly treated?
We happily retain an excellent SolGen who also leads our international legal defense against China’s territorial incursions. I hope, however, that the JBC reconsiders its procedures. Due process aside, the rule requiring a unanimous vote in cases of integrity may well be unconstitutional. The JBC was created as a nonpartisan alternative to the Commission on Appointments and is specifically composed of the chief justice, secretary of justice, a retired justice, a law professor, and a representative each of Congress, the Integrated Bar, and the private sector. The rule undermines the collegiality of this deliberately composed body.
Further, two years ago Justice Secretary Leila de Lima protested her disqualification as a candidate for chief justice due to a pending disbarment case. Arguably, one can file such a case and leave a candidate unable to resolve it in time.
Finally, we must always remember to praise our best public servants to the same extent that we condemn our worst. Beyond Jardeleza, people say the fate of corruption is in the hands of the “Three Furies”—Pulido-Tan, De Lima and Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, and those we ask to serve us at great personal cost must truly feel that we are behind them.
Oscar Franklin Tan (@oscarfbtan, facebook.com/OscarFranklinTan) cochairs the Philippine Bar Association Committee on Constitutional Law and teaches at the University of the East.
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