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With Due Respect

‘Ad majórem Dei glóriam’

New Justice Antonio T. Kho Jr. is the first Supreme Court appointee of President Duterte to come from outside the judicial career service. All the President’s 18 prior appointees have been promotions from the Court of Appeals, the Sandiganbayan, and the Office of the Court Administrator.

IN CONTRAST, J KHO IS NOT ONLY AN OUTSIDER; he is also, at 55, the second youngest member of the Court (born on June 29, 1966) and will therefore serve for over 15 years. The youngest is still J Ramon Paul L. Hernando (born on Aug. 27, 1966) while the third youngest is J Jose Midas P. Marquez (born on Feb. 16, 1966).

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During his first flag ceremony at the Supreme Court quadrangle, J Kho voiced this assurance, my “… outmost appreciation to the President [for appointing me] would not in any way hinder my desire to exhibit independence in my work and render justice to all…”

Earlier during his six-year term, the President named justices who served short terms (some, less than two years) only to replace them with much younger nominees of the Judicial and Bar Council, like Kho and Marquez. He will also name another high court member (his 20th) when Senior Justice Estela M. Perlas-Bernabe retires on May 14.

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Because of these young Duterte appointees, the next president will be able to appoint only three associate justices during his or her six-year term (2022-2028) to replace JJ Mario V. Lopez on June 4, 2025, Amy C. Lazaro-Javier on Nov. 16, 2026, and Henri Jean Paul B. Inting on Sept. 4, 2027, unless one or more of the longer-termed jurists would hang their black robes ahead of their 70th birthdays, as some Duterte appointees (like CJ Diosdado M. Peralta and JJ Priscilla J. Baltazar-Padilla and Edgardo L. Delos Santos) had done.

In other words, the next president will not be able to influence the legal moorings and leanings of the Court as much as President Duterte had been able to do. As a bonus, though, he or she will be able to name a new CJ to replace Alexander G. Gesmundo who will retire on Nov. 6, 2026.

J KHO REPLACED J ROSMARI D. CARANDANG, a respected alumna of the UP College of Law. With her retirement last January, the venerable state university was left with only two sitting justices, JJ Marvic M. V. F. Leonen and Jhosep Y. Lopez. In contrast, its friendly rival, the Ateneo de Manila School of Law, has six alums in the Court (CJ Gesmundo, JJ Bernabe, Alfredo Benjamin S. Caguioa, Rodil V. Zalameda, Ricardo R. Rosario, and Marquez) with a seventh from the Ateneo de Davao (J Henri Jean Paul B. Inting).

Clearly the Jesuit-educated jurists dominate the Court. Will they uphold the Jesuit motto of “Ad majórem Dei glóriam?” Will they transform the Court in living, working, and promoting “the greater glory of God?” Will they exemplify the Jesuit vow of poverty, chastity, and obedience in spirit and in truth (if not in fact as the Ateneo de Manila presidents I know and admire — Frs. Joaquin Bernas, Ben Nebres, Jett Villarin, and Bobby Yap — have done) while living in the “sinful” world of the lay?

In fact, including the four justices schooled in the Benedictine “ora et labora” (San Beda’s JJ Hernando, Mario V. Lopez, Samuel H. Gaerlan, and Kho) and the Dominican “veritas” (UST’s J Amy C. Lazaro-Javier), the Court really has 12 members who were grads of religious schools while only three were educated in nonsectarian law colleges (UP’s JJ Leonen and Jhosep Y. Lopez and UE’s Japar B. Dimaampao). Will the Gesmundo Court be known in history for always upholding St. Thomas More’s “the King’s good servant but God’s first?” Hmm…

NOT TO BE FORGOTTEN IN DISCUSSING MEMBERSHIP IN THE COURT is the recent appointment by the Supreme Court of Raul B. Villanueva, who was schooled in “the grand manner” of George A. Malcolm, as the new court administrator (CA), a position that is only a slight notch below that of a Court member; it has the same rank as the presiding justice of the Court of Appeals, Court of Tax Appeals, and Sandiganbayan.

Verily, CA Villanueva deserves a promotion to the Supreme Court soon, he having served as a trustworthy and reliable deputy court administrator for many years. Other CAs who had been promoted to the Court include JJ Leo D. Medialdea (father of Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea), Josue N. Bellosillo, Jose P. Perez, and Marquez.

Once promoted, CA Villanueva will bump up the UP contingent to three but still unreminiscent of its old glory of dominating the Court since the end of World War II.

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TAGS: Antonio T. Kho Jr., Artemio V. Panganiban, Supreme Court, With Due Respect
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