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With Due Respect

Passion to eradicate corruption

Though he was President Duterte’s first appointee to the Supreme Court, Justice Samuel R. Martires has always wanted to be the Ombudsman of our country.

During the testimonial dinner hosted by the San Beda Law Alumni Association on July 27, 2017, honoring him and the other early Bedan judicial appointees (Supreme Court Justice Noel G. Tijam; Sandiganbayan Justices Maria Theresa Mendoza-Arcega, Bernelito Fernandez and Lorifel Pahimna; Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre; and Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) members Toribio Ilao Jr. and Reynaldo Umali), I — as the guest speaker — lauded him for attaining the elusive dream of every lawyer.

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In his response, he thanked me profusely, saying that he cherished my words because, since his “short-pants days,” he has tracked and admired my career as a student leader and law scholar. He added that, if I would remember, he took his oath of office as a Sandiganbayan justice before me as chief justice on May 8, 2006.

Nonetheless, he confessed publicly that his appointment to the highest court was not his ultimate aspiration. To the startled Bedan audience that included Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea (who doggedly sponsored his Supreme Court appointment), he said that his real ambition was to be Ombudsman. Verily, he has a passion to eradicate corruption.

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On April 5 this year, during the birthday celebration of President Duterte (and former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo) at the Sofitel Hotel, we were seated near each other. I quietly asked him why he had not applied for the soon-to-be-vacant Ombudsman post.

At that time, the JBC had already announced its readiness to accept applications. “Chief,” he whispered back, “I am still praying about it, asking the Lord for guidance.” To which I responded, “I will pray with you and for you so you may discern God’s will for you.”

A few days later, he filed his application. Not surprisingly, he gathered the most votes both in the JBC and in the Supreme Court.

His challenge now is to uphold and surpass the standard of “competence, honesty and industry” (and, if I may add, independence and transparency) that his multiawarded predecessor, Conchita Carpio Morales, publicly set recently. With his ultimate aspiration fulfilled and divine guidance received, he will ardently pursue, I pray, our people’s continuing quest for a graft-free society.

With Justice Martires’ early retirement from the high court, President Duterte will be able to appoint one more Supreme Court member this year in addition to two other slots to be vacated by Justices Presbitero J. Velasco Jr. on Aug. 8 and Teresita J. Leonardo De Castro on Oct. 8.

And next year, he will fill up five more vacancies with the retirement of Justices Tijam on Jan. 5, 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.

Indeed, during the first half of his term, the President will be able to install a supermajority in the Court (including the first four he named in 2017, namely, Martires, Tijam, Andres B. Reyes Jr. and Alexander G. Gesmundo).

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And before he ends his term at noon on June 30, 2022, he would have filled up 13 seats in the Court, with only two (Justices Marvic M.V.F. Leonen and Alfredo Benjamin S. Caguioa) remaining of the original 15 sitting magistrates when he started his presidency at noon on June 30, 2016.

A new chief justice, he will appoint soon. Four incumbent justices—De Castro, Diosdado M. Peralta, Bersamin and Reyes—are vying for the post. If he appoints De Castro, he will be able to name another chief when she retires in two months, on Oct. 8.

If he chooses any of the other three now instead of De Castro, he will still be able to name their successor given that all of them will retire before he ends his term on June 30, 2022 (Peralta will retire on March 27, 2022, Bersamin on Oct. 18, 2019, and Reyes on May 11, 2020).

If De Castro is chosen, the three can still vie to succeed her. Carpio, the most senior justice, may accept a nomination because the vacancy to be created by De Castro’s retirement would be unquestionably valid, unlike the present one which, in his view, was unconstitutionally produced.

Additionally, two other justices (Del Castillo and Estela M. Perlas-Bernabe, who will retire on May 14, 2022, also within President Duterte’s term) would be among the top five seniors by that time.

Comments to chiefjusticepanganiban@hotmail.com

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TAGS: artemio v. panganiban, judicial and bar council, Office of the Ombudsman, Rodrigo Duterte, Samuel Martires, war on corruption, With Due Respect
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