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Kris-Crossing Mindanao

Shooting buddies it need not be

The next chief justice need not be old, Malacañang’s spokesperson Edwin Lacierda says. How about that for a change, indeed? Also, the chief justice need not be a man, they added. After losing our chance to have a woman chief justice in Cecilia Muñoz-Palma many, many Marcos moons ago, that is certainly something we can agree with.

But she need not be a shooting buddy either. Let’s put it this way. This is the era of the “daang matuwid,” right? And that supposedly straight path should also lead to an independent judiciary, shouldn’t it? The road to Chief Justice Renato Corona’s impeachment and subsequent conviction, in fact, began when a foreign trip of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was allowed by the Supreme Court under Corona but was aborted right at the airport. The perception was (and still is) that this Court, under Corona, was beholden to the previous president.

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When President Aquino appointed members to his Cabinet, a clear pattern easily emerged. The choices were based on either one of three criteria: kaibigan (close friend), kaklase (former classmate), or kabarilan (shooting buddy). A fourth one, reportedly, was discarded when the public let out a howl: a friend of Kris (sister of President Aquino). Anyway, because he was a new occupant of Malacañang, the public readily gave him a chance to work with people he could easily cozy up to.

But the chief justice is not of the same mold. His office is not a Cabinet position which calls for the holder to be someone the President can “cozy up to.” The chief justice of the Supreme Court is not an alter ego of the president. And there is no guarantee that being kaibigan, kaklase  or kabarilan will work for the common good here. That is to put it mildly.

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With 38 candidates now nominated for chief justice before the Judicial and Bar Council, shooting buddies should be the last to be considered, if ever.

Internal Revenue Commissioner Kim Henares, however, does not see it that way. On the contrary, she thinks she has the edge, and she revealed this belief of hers even when the list was still somewhere at 20 plus. And Lacierda agrees with the garapalan.

Will a Chief Justice Kim Henares pen decisions and opinions adverse to the Aquino administration? The question need not even be asked. After Corona, no room should be allowed for such speculation or possibility. The President and his minions should just banish any such possibility outright.

But Lacierda and the BIR commissioner do not think so. Was the Corona impeachment then just a simple case of Tama na, sobra na, and kami na naman? That is how it would be should the woman with the edge, nay, the shooting buddy who unabashedly claims she has the edge, get that plum post of premier jurist of the country. And then we can be sure that the removal of Corona from the Supreme Court was just for the waste bins.

What is it about Mr. Aquino’s appointees that they have lost the virtue that is one of the leading guideposts along the “daang matuwid”? I am referring to the sense of delicadeza.

Ronald Llamas got caught with his hand in the cookie jar not once but twice. Land Transportation Office chief Virginia Torres was under heavy fire from both the agency’s insiders and outsiders. Quickly in all instances, the President came to their rescue and even proclaimed them blameless and holy. Of course, both of them are shooting buddies of the President.

Delicadeza can have many meanings. It is tact, it is also discretion. But the best is this (because it is also the most lacking in our culture): a sense of ethics. It requires propriety of behavior that is the most detached from self-interest.

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A government that is morally right and scrupulously clean in the face of corruption is a government that we all certainly desire. Incidentally, that is also the kind of government capable of promoting a national sense of delicadeza. Delicadeza, we had thought, was lost in the last two previous administrations. That is why we have “daang matuwid” now.

It should surprise us no more how much we have lost our sense of ethics. We do not even teach that anymore to the young by our example. Recently I witnessed firsthand how ethical behavior was lost in a small institution that taught children values. We often argue that what is necessarily legal may not be moral, that the end never justifies the means. That is because delicadeza is actually anchored on generally acceptable moral standards.

President Aquino now has the chance to raise the sense of ethics of this nation by choosing carefully the next chief justice from among the least self-interested nominees. If Henares thinks she has the edge and if it is she who will get the post, we can be sure that that will be the end of “daang matuwid.” Choosing Henares to be the next chief justice will be tantamount to abuse of power and indiscretion by no less than the President himself.

With the successful impeachment of Corona, now is the time to start right. And delicadeza should be the starting point. The public would highly laud Henares, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio should they reject their nominations. But more highly laudable it would be if the President does not appoint them.

Values are superior to presidential prerogatives.

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TAGS: Benigno Aquino, chief justice, Government, judiciary, kim henares, politics, Supreme Court
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