A preview of things to come
I write in reaction to Conrado de Quiros’ June 20 column (“A matter of fitness”).
I thank him for his incisive threshing of crucial considerations in the selection of the next chief justice.
In arguing for the departure from the tradition of seniority, De Quiros cited as examples the cases of Chief Justices Artemio Panganiban and Reynato Puno. I respect his opinion but, I think there are some facts that need to be clarified.
Among the landmark rulings of Chief Justice Panganiban that we studied in class is the one on La Bugal-B’laan Tribal Association v. Ramos, regarding the constitutionality of the Mining Act of 1995. The Supreme Court, through Associate Justice (now Ombudsman) Conchita Carpio Morales, struck down as unconstitutional several provisions of the Mining Act. Barely a year later, several justices reversed themselves and declared the law constitutional. Several news reports—including the Inquirer—cited Speaker Jose de Venecia as having said that he talked to several justices to change their minds. A year later, Associate Justice Panganiban was named the 21st chief justice of the Philippines. Looking closely, the Aquino administration’s current moves to amend the national mining policy track the concerns of the dissenting justices in La Bugal.
I also find it interesting that De Quiros commended Chief Justice Puno for striking down “Arroyo’s plan of changing the Charter.” The case he referred to was Lambino v. Comelec, which was decided on Oct. 25, 2006. The ponente of the Court’s judgment in that case was Associate Justice Antonio Carpio (an Arroyo appointee) who branded the “People’s Initiative” as a “grand deception.” Associate Justice Puno did not lead “the charge against Arroyo’s plan of changing the Charter,” but he wrote an extended dissent calling the Lambino Initiative as the “people’s voice” and a manifestation of our nation’s sovereign will. At any rate, history will show that, barely three months after that decision, Associate Justice Puno was appointed chief justice by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
It is because of these instances that I disagree with De Quiros’ view on unfettered discretion on the part of the appointing power. While not apparent, it cannot be denied that an “absolutely free” prerogative opens the position of the chief justice to a “free-for-all” and ultimately injects fealty to Malacañang’s “administrative and governmental policies” as a significant, if not controlling, consideration. We see this happening now in the mad rush of persons fancying themselves to be the future chief justice.
Perhaps the problem is not really what justices do once they have become the chief justice, but rather what they do in order to become the chief justice. If at all, what a justice does regularly is but a preview of things to come, and our contemporary experience confirms this.
—DARWIN P. ANGELES, student, University of the Philippines College of Law,
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