Duterte’s appointees dominate SC
Despite being in office for only two and a half years, President Duterte has already filled seven of the 14 seats of the Supreme Court. His appointees are Chief Justice Lucas P. Bersamin, Justices Noel G. Tijam, Andres B. Reyes Jr., Alexander G. Gesmundo, Jose C. Reyes Jr., Ramon Paul L. Hernando and Rosmari D. Carandang. Once he fills the lone vacant seat, he would have appointed the majority.
In fact, before the end of 2019, he would be able to fill 12 seats. Only three appointees of President Benigno Aquino III—Justices Estela M. Perlas-Bernabe, Marvic M. V. F. Leonen and Alfredo Benjamin S. Caguioa— would remain. This is because five justices will retire in 2019: Tijam on Jan. 5, Mariano C. del Castillo on July 29, Francis H. Jardeleza on Sept. 26, Bersamin on Oct. 18 and Antonio T. Carpio on Oct. 26.
Moreover, Mr. Duterte has already named two chief justices: Teresita J. Leonardo-De Castro and Bersamin, and would be able to choose the latter’s successor. If the successor will have a short term like his first two appointees, he can name a fourth or even a fifth CJ.
In contrast, Aquino named only one CJ and five associate justices who remained in the Court at the end of his six-year term: CJ Maria Lourdes P. A. Sereno and Justices Bienvenido L. Reyes, Bernabe, Leonen, Jardeleza and Caguioa.
Why? Because President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Aquino’s predecessor, appointed relatively young justices whose terms of office lasted longer than Aquino’s tenure and whose retirements fell within Mr. Duterte’s presidency.
Thus far, Mr. Duterte’s appointees have been career jurists, thereby endearing him to the appellate service. Note, too, that many of his appointees have short terms, giving him more chances to promote more appellate justices. This practice has a domino effect that moves even the trial judges up the judicial ladder.
President Duterte’s CJ choices (De Castro and Bersamin) are also career justices. Since the effectivity of the 1987 Constitution up to 2016 when he ascended to the top, only two career justices have become CJs (Claudio Teehankee and Reynato S. Puno), compared with seven noncareer CJs (Pedro L. Yap, Marcelo B. Fernan, Andres R. Narvasa, Hilario G. Davide Jr., yours truly, Renato C. Corona and Sereno).
In total, four CJs have been selected from the career and seven from the noncareer service — i.e., those who were appointed associate justices from private practice or the academe or other government posts without passing through the appellate service, and from there, rose to the top judicial post.
Of the 14 current members, 10 are career justices and only four are noncareer (Carpio, Jardeleza, Leonen and Caguioa). Two of them (Carpio and Jardeleza), as stated earlier, will retire in 2019. To maintain the tradition of having about five noncareer justices, the President may want to consider appointing from the private practice or the academe or other government posts next year.
In the past, dominance did not automatically translate to subservience, as shown by many crucial decisions that voided, when proper, the policies of then Presidents Arroyo and Cory Aquino. (The other post-Edsa presidents did not enjoy dominance.) How will dominance affect the present Court’s decisions on controversial cases? We should know soon enough.
To combat corruption and other unethical practices, the Court formed on Oct. 2, 2018, the Judicial Integrity Board (JIB) and the Corruption Prevention and Investigation Office (CPIO). Together, they constitute the rough equivalent of the Office of the Ombudsman for the judiciary.
The JIB shall be composed of a chairperson, a vice chairperson and three regular members. The first two shall be retired Supreme Court justices and the latter three shall be retired appellate court justices.
The JIB shall hear corruption and ethics complaints against the justices and personnel of the appellate and trial courts. The CPIO shall conduct “investigations, intelligence, surveillance or entrapment operations, or lifestyle checks” on them. However, complaints against Supreme Court justices shall be tackled by the Court’s committee on ethics, not the JIB.
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