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Sisyphus’ Lament

#DraftCarpio for Chief Justice

Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio is universally hailed as the best chief justice we never had. He cemented this by declining to be named chief justice, given his dissent in the quo warranto case.

No less than retired chief justice Hilario Davide Jr. requested the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) to nominate Carpio whether or not he consents. “Personal consideration must now yield to the demands of public interest.”

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Davide is a living legend, the unifying figure who single-handedly held our country together in 2001 and led the justices into the Edsa Dos rallies. He spoke at my Ateneo de Manila graduation and affirmed my decision to study law.

Carpio was appointed to serve under Davide that fateful year.

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Carpio is so revered that Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, a JBC member, publicly stated that the JBC may consider Davide’s unprecedented request.

IBP president Elijah Fajardo echoed that Carpio is “the most senior” and “most qualified to lead … the entire Philippine judiciary.”

Rep. Rey Umali, House committee on justice chair, likewise asked the President to respect seniority. Justice Marvic Leonen went on TV to deny he wanted the position, instead emphasizing seniority, too.

Seniority is code for Carpio. The next most senior, Presbitero Velasco Jr. and Teresita Leonardo de Castro, retire this August and October.

We have a perceived seniority tradition. Scholars caution that Justice Claudio Teehankee Sr., the martial law court’s great dissenter, was bypassed twice despite being senior. He eventually swore in President Corazon Aquino during the 1986 Edsa People Power Revolution and became her chief justice.

Davide stressed that Carpio, too, has been bypassed twice. People thus spontaneously stress his title “Senior Associate Justice” out of great respect.

In the 2012 chief justice interviews, retired justice Regino Hermosisima Jr. declined to ask Carpio questions, instead stating: “Justice Tony Carpio can bring greatness to the Supreme Court, and possibly, renewed glory.”

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But I believe in merit, not seniority.

Carpio established his reputation early. His famous 2003 MVRS Publications dissent outlined how to punish a tabloid—for publishing that Muslims worship pigs—beyond the traditional libel framework. Even more impressive, the dissent was based on his 1972 student article as chair of the Philippine Law Journal.

I invited luminaries to lecture on recent decisions when I chaired the journal in 2005. The greatest of them, former Senate president Jovito Salonga, then 84, singled out the junior Carpio for powerfully written, well-organized, student-friendly decisions.

This was astounding praise given the Davide court’s star-studded roster.

Carpio is now even more respected for his staunch West Philippine Sea advocacy. He traveled the world holding up ancient maps and distilled his knowledge into a beautifully illustrated free e-book (imoa.ph/downloads).

And Carpio is beloved for his fierce independence.

At one Philippine Law Journal function, the intimidating Carpio sat alone at one table. I sat down and asked how his judicial philosophy changed over 10 years.

He immediately laughed. He said, if anything, he became more entrenched and sure in his positions.

Our last two chief justices failed to finish their terms, but there has been a sense of calm since Carpio took over as acting chief justice. We hope it continues if Carpio and his feats, not merely seniority, are honored.

And Carpio is a pragmatic choice. He retires in October 2019 when he turns 70, allowing a new appointment after hopefully a year of stability.

In his 2012 interview, Carpio was asked in passing what he plans to do when he retires.

The stern legal titan softened. He gently replied that he only looks forward to teaching law again.

When even Davide and Fajardo fail, perhaps it falls to the students and young lawyers dearest to Carpio to convince this great man that our country is not yet ready for him to fade away.

React: [email protected], Twitter @oscarfbtan, facebook.com/OscarFranklinTan. This column does not represent the opinion of organizations with which the author is affiliated.

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TAGS: Antonio Carpio, chief justice, Hilario Davide Jr., judiciary, Supreme Court
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