It’a a relief that no more nominations for chief justice will be accepted. With some 65 nominees, the list had begun to appear like the roster of contestants for “Talentadong Pinoy” or “You’ve Got Talent,” where performers strut their stuff in singing, dancing, acrobatics and death-defying acts to become “the next big thing.”
Democracy and its ways may be best in fostering transparency and honest talent search, but occasionally they threaten to slide down to anarchy and sheer pettiness. As it is, the selection of the man or woman to replace ousted Chief Justice Renato Corona may be going the way of the circus.
Part of the problem may be that the nomination process has been opened and liberally made public. It is enjoying full media coverage, as did Corona’s impeachment and trial (in fact, Corona’s impeachment and trial could have triggered as well the intense public interest in the process of selecting his replacement). Media coverage has been blamed for copycat crimes, and to some extent, we’re seeing a variation of this in the selection process, with crackpots nominating themselves despite their obvious lack of fitness for the job. For example, among the nominees is former Malabon Regional Trial Court Judge Florentino Floro Jr., who was sacked by the Supreme Court in 2006. He had admitted to, among other things, consulting dwarfs in deciding cases. Calling himself “Chief Justice of the Universe,” Floro personally submitted his 45-page application to the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC), attaching pictures of individuals as well as names of several other persons who have purportedly witnessed “the mystic divine lights in Judge Floro’s 2 palm-eyes.” Declared Floro: “The court will never rise again except upon appointment of a chief justice who is anointed by Christ through Ave Maria.”
Apparently, the JBC policy is not only full transparency but also “letting a hundred Floros bloom.” It has also released to the media the application of one Antonio Villamor, who reportedly was nominated through an e-mail sent by a certain “Leonardo da Vinci.”
The nominations may provide comic relief to otherwise serious business, but the search for the top magistrate of the land is no laughing matter. Back when the list was “just” 50, Sen. Joker Arroyo had observed that “[t]his bid to be chief justice is getting to be ridiculous,” with “every Tom, Dick and Harry” wanting the position. Quite right. Many of the nominees are ambulance-chasers. Some of them have even claimed to reporters that they had “the edge.”
Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago is among those proposed for the post, but she has declined the nomination especially because she’s going to the International Criminal Court based in the Netherlands. Her criticism of the selection process should be taken with a grain of salt, particularly in light of her outburst in 2006 when the JBC dropped her from the list of those who would replace the then soon to retire Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban. (“I am irate,” she had told Senate President Manuel Villar. “I am foaming at the mouth. I’m homicidal. I’m suicidal. I’m humiliated, debased, degraded. And not only that, I feel like throwing up to be living my middle years in a country of this nature. I am nauseated. I spit in the face of Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban and his cohorts in the Supreme Court.”) But her current observation rings true—that the selection process has become highly politicized and that the judiciary may not get the chief justice it needs. “Overweening ambition has become the prevailing discipline in the minds of lawyers,” she said about the nominees. “You don’t consider anymore whether you have sufficient experience, background, or performance, much less achievement. They all just want to be chief justice.”
Also part of the problem is that the JBC may be pandering too much to the gallery. Senator Arroyo said there were just too many nominees: “This has never happened before and the JBC consciously or unconsciously abets this. While it democratizes the system, it, however, also devalues the position of chief justice.”
Sen. Franklin Drilon, himself a nominee but who declined the nomination, made a similar observation. “It has become a circus,” he said. “It’s a sad commentary on the process that has evolved… It has become absurd.”
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