11 more SC seats to fill
During the 6-year term of President Duterte (2016-2022), 12 of the 15 seats in the Supreme Court will be vacated as the incumbents reach the compulsory retirement age of 70.
Retirement dates. The President has already filled four of those 12 vacancies, yet he can still name 11 more justices before he ends his term on June 30, 2022. How come?
This is simply because his first three appointees will reach their compulsory retirement age during his remaining term. His first appointee, Justice Samuel R. Martires, will retire on Jan. 2, 2019; the second, Justice Noel G. Tijam, on Jan. 6, 2019; and the third, Justice Andres B. Reyes Jr., on May 11, 2020. Thus, he will name their replacements.
The fourth, Justice Alexander G. Gesmundo, will outlast the presidential term since he will retire only on Nov. 6, 2026, his 70th birthday. Only three others will reach compulsory retirement age after the President exits: CJ Maria Lourdes P.A. Sereno on July 2, 2030, Justice Marvic M.B.F. Leonen on Dec. 29, 2032, and Justice Alfredo Benjamin S. Caguioa on Sept. 30, 2029.
The 11 vacancies will occur chronologically and in the normal course as follows: two in 2018, Justices Presbitero J. Velasco Jr. on Aug. 8 and Teresita J. Leonardo-De Castro on Oct. 8; six in 2019, Martires on Jan. 2, Tijam on Jan. 6, Mariano C. Del Castillo on July 29, Francis H. Jardeleza on Sept. 26, Lucas P. Bersamin on Oct. 18 and Antonio T. Carpio on Oct. 26; one in 2020, Reyes on May 11; none in 2021; and two in 2022, Diosdado M. Peralta on March 27 and Estela M. Perlas-Bernabe on May 14.
Crucial appointments. The question of who will appoint the successors of the last two (Peralta and Bernabe) can be contentious because under Art. VII, Sec. 15 of the Constitution, “(t)wo months immediately before the next presidential elections and up to the end of his term, a President or Acting President shall not make appointments…”
Nonetheless, the Supreme Court, voting 9-3 in De Castro vs. JBC (March 17, 2010), ruled that this ban on “midnight appointments” does not apply to the Court because under another constitutional provision, “[a]ny vacancy [in the Court] shall be filled within ninety days from the occurrence thereof.”
This decision allowed then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to name Renato C. Corona chief justice though the post became vacant only after CJ Reynato S. Puno retired on May 17, 2010, which was within the period covered by Art. VII, Sec. 15.
Court profile. Career jurists are happy because all the four new appointees are from their ranks, two from the Court of Appeals (Tijam and Reyes) and two from the Sandiganbayan (Martires and Gesmundo).
Of the 11 other incumbents, four were elevated from the Court of Appeals: Velasco, Bersamin, Del Castillo and Bernabe; two were promoted from the Sandiganbayan: De Castro and Peralta; while five were plucked directly from private practice: Sereno, Carpio, Leonen, Jardeleza and Caquioa.
In terms of law school, six of the magistrates graduated from the University of the Philippines (Sereno, Carpio, Velasco, De Castro, Leonen and Jardeleza); five from Ateneo de Manila University (Del Castillo, Bernabe, Caguioa, Reyes and Gesmundo); two from San Beda College (Martires and Tijam); one from the University of Santo Tomas (Peralta); and one from the University of the East (Bersamin).
Due to the recent appointments, the Court’s three divisions have been reorganized as follows: First Division, Sereno (chair), De Castro, Del Castillo, Jardeleza, and Tijam; Second Division, Carpio (chair), Peralta, Bernabe, Caguioa and Reyes; and Third Division, Velasco (chair), Bersamin, Leonen, Martires and Gesmundo.
More than 80 percent of all cases are decided by the divisions. A decision of a division (even by just three votes) is deemed a decision of the entire 15-member Court. However, according to the Constitution, “no doctrine or principle of law laid down by the court in a decision rendered en banc or in division may be modified or reversed except by the court sitting en banc.”
Of course, the Court’s profile will change if new vacancies are created by resignation, death, disability, removal, or constitutional revision/amendment.
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