Please exclude CJs from popularity surveys | Inquirer Opinion
With Due Respect

Please exclude CJs from popularity surveys

Pulse Asia recently released a poll survey (taken Sept. 10-14, 2023) showing the awareness, approval, trust, and performance ratings of our top officials. Though they suffered a downturn, President Marcos scored an approval rating of 65 percent; Vice President (VP) Sara Duterte, 73; Senate President Migz Zubiri, 50; Speaker Martin Romualdez, 41; and Chief Justice (CJ) Alexander G. Gesmundo, 34. Sadly, I have yet to see a CJ who exceeded a 50-percent approval rating during the last 15 or so years.

THOUGH I DO NOT DOUBT THE CREDIBILITY OF, AND THE SCIENCE USED, by Pulse Asia (or the Social Weather Stations), I believe that unelected CJs should be excluded from the same approval (or awareness, trust, or performance) surveys under the same standards and metrics as our elected leaders. Such surveys, in my humble opinion, constitute embarrassment at least, or even harassment for the CJs and for the Supreme Court. Let me explain.

Our Constitution requires the top officials of the three great branches of the government—president, vice president, senators, representatives, and Supreme Court justices—to possess three basic qualifications: natural-born citizenship, minimum age, and ability to read and write. All of them have fixed terms of office: six years for the president, VP, and senators; three years for representatives; and until age 70 for the justices.

However, justices and judges are constitutionally required five more qualities: “proven competence, integrity, probity, and independence,” and “Member of the Philippine Bar.” These five qualities are not required for the other top officials who acquire their offices through popular mandate and political skills. In fact, the Constitution does not prohibit the unschooled, dishonest, dropouts, sycophants, and criminals from running for, and being elected to, the top posts in the executive and legislative branches (unless disqualified by a law or a final judicial decision).


MOREOVER, UNLIKE THE TOP EXECUTIVE AND LEGISLATIVE OFFICIALS, the justices land their jobs based on those five additional qualities, not on their popular mandate and political skills. This is not to say that they should not care about public trust and the general welfare. Quite the contrary, CJs and the judiciary, in general, should have the continuing confidence and residual trust of the populace to ride the fickleness and shiftiness of public perceptions and opinions.

Of the five additional qualifications for justices, independence is the most prized. To preserve their independence, our Constitution and laws grant them special privileges, like security of tenure; removal from office only through the difficult process of impeachment (and arguably, with my respectful dissent, through quo warranto); and fixed compensation that cannot be reduced by Congress and is paid to them continuously even during their retirement until their death.

To enable them to decide fairly and objectively, CJs and the justices are shielded from the vagaries of election campaigns and accorded peace and tranquility in performing their sacred duty as the last bastion of democracy. It is ironic but indispensable that the unelected, not the elected, should be the final repository of our people’s liberty and prosperity under the rule of law.

“Under the rule of law” is a critical component of the lonely work of jurists. They judge cases according to what is just and humane, after due process as prescribed by law, and not by the rich and the powerful. They cannot be like Pilate who condemned Jesus Christ according to the rule of the mob, or like the Spanish conquistadores who executed Jose Rizal according to the rule of the powerful.


JUDICIAL INDEPENDENCE MAY MEAN WORKING AGAINST THE POPULAR. Thus, a senator or a former president cannot be acquitted simply because of his or her popularity, or because a judgment of conviction may ignite popular disenchantment or street rallies. Neither should a decision be rendered through the influence of kins, friends, and admirers; not even of critical media, investigative journalists, or opinion writers like me. Nor of social media practitioners and influencers.

Quite the contrary, justices should stand by their conscience and decide according to what the law ordains, regardless of the mob, the powerful, the media, and the influential. Litigants have devised ways of reaching justices via their spouses, children, close relatives, school chums, doctors, even fathers-confessors. Jurists must avoid them like a plague.


For these reasons, IMHO, CJs should be excluded from the pollsters’ popularity surveys because CJs were not elected by the poll respondents and are therefore politically unknown. Necessarily, they will always rank low, as year after year, they have been. Let us spare them the embarrassment, nay, the harassment of being badly perceived vis-à-vis our elected officials.

I will fret the day if and when CJs would vie for popularity instead of independence, surrender to the mob instead of to the truth based on a fair trial, and judge wickedly to gain fame and favor instead of rendering justice though the heavens may fall.

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TAGS: popularity survey, Supreme Court SC chief justices, With Due Respect

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