Duterte appointees to dominate SC
One of the most humble and competent jurists I know, Justice Mariano C. del Castillo, will be honored by his colleagues on Friday, July 26, to mark his retirement from the Supreme Court.
The Constitution says that members of the judiciary “shall hold office during good behavior until they reach the age of seventy years…” Though he will celebrate his 70th birthday only on Monday, July 29, he will say his farewell three days earlier, because the Court interprets this constitutional provision to mean “until midnight of the day before reaching their 70th birthday.”
Justice Del Castillo started his career from the lowest rung in the judicial ladder — in the Municipal Trial Court of San Mateo, Rizal, in 1989. He was elevated to the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Angeles City in 1992, transferred to the RTC of Quezon City in 1995, promoted to the Court of Appeals in 2001, and finally raised to the Supreme Court on July 29, 2009.
Though he has rendered 30 years of faithful service to the judiciary (1989 to 2019), 10 of them in the highest court of the land, and though he has attained enough seniority in the judiciary and in the Supreme Court, he declined his nomination to succeed CJ Teresita J. Leonardo-de Castro, who retired on Oct. 10, 2018.
When I asked why he declined, he humbly replied, “I will be retiring in about eight months, and I don’t think I can make a difference as chief justice. I would rather concentrate on my work as an associate justice and as chairman of the 2018 bar exams.”
And concentrate he did on his work, finishing his term with absolutely no backlog to leave his successor despite the heavy caseload of the whole Court itself, and managing flawlessly the 2018 bar exams. In my book, that makes him a super justice.
Without doubt, Del Castillo embodies the constitutional standards of “proven competence, integrity, probity, and independence.” Moreover, he has conducted himself with honor and dignity, without being haughty, arrogant or self-centered. He is friendly yet detached; familiar yet objective; strict yet fair; self-assured yet collegial. Indeed, he is gentleman-jurist of the highest caliber.
In fact, he is so self-effacing and so humble that at times he becomes faceless in a crowd. And I think that is precisely his charisma: to toil without rest, to give the best of himself without fanfare, and to excel without beating his own chest.
Yes, we who admire him, who observe his work, words and actions, know him to be a shining example of what a jurist should be. And I am confident he will be remembered as such among the brightest stars in our firmament of great jurists.
His low-profile judicial career is really a reflection of his modest student days. While he did not graduate with honors, he did even better: He wooed and convinced Cynthia Roxas, their 1976 class valedictorian at the Ateneo de Manila School of Law, to marry him. And the couple, like in our favorite fairy tales, “lived happily ever after,” with the wife becoming the youngest and first female dean (1990-2000) of their revered alma mater.
With Del Castillo’s retirement and replacement, President Duterte’s appointees would constitute eight of the 15 members, a clear majority, of the high court. Later this year, three more will retire — Francis H. Jardeleza (on Sept. 26), Lucas P. Bersamin (Oct. 18) and Antonio T. Carpio (Oct. 26), thereby giving the President a super majority of 11, with the bonus of naming a new CJ to replace Bersamin.
In fact, before Mr. Duterte ends his term on June 30, 2022, his appointees will surge to 13 including the chief, with only Justices Marvic M. V. F. Leonen and Alfredo Benjamin S. Caguioa remaining of the original 15 at the beginning of the President’s term on June 30, 2016.
How such a supermajority will affect the Court’s independence and its tripartite role in our government deserves a future column. Meanwhile, let me just say that while new justices may feel a debt of gratitude (a deep-rooted Filipino trait) to the appointing authority during their first year in office, they know only too well that the temporaries of the moment are always overtaken by the permanencies of history.
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