Choosing the chief justice

For the first time in history, the Judicial and Bar Council conducted psychological tests, psychiatric evaluations, and live panel interviews in the process of selecting the next chief justice. Why? Is the objective to psychologically forestall a similar incident that irretrievably disgraced the ousted Chief Justice Renato Corona? Isn’t the transparent purpose to treat the “wounded” image of the Supreme Court? Or, hopefully, improve the holistic delivery system of the judiciary? Will the test items and the results or scores of each nominee be made public?

We wonder if the previous 23 chief justices starting with Cayetano Arellano would have been willing to undertake the psychological test, psychiatric evaluation, and live panel grilling just to be appointed chief justice. We are also curious if they had “personality disorders” according to diagnostic characteristics or scientific personality assessments.


Psychology is that province of knowledge about scientific research on human behavior and personality. Through such research, an array of psychological assessment scales has been developed to measure various aspects of psychological functioning and personality characteristics.

In “Psychological Tests—Sense or Non-Sense?” Patrick Merlevede, jobEQ’s leading researcher, says: Most test developers and test users have good intentions, yet due to inadequate training, there is considerable misuse of test data. He warns about the bad use of tests in general and about “nonsense” claims that some people may make regarding the tests they put on the market. Test constructs and psychometric quality should underlie the psychological tests, he says. For example, what theory of judicial privilege or duty underlies the rationale of the test? How are the test questions on “proven competence, integrity, probity and independence” formulated? How are clogged dockets decongested, or the Judicial Development Funds handled? How is hard-ball politics factored in? Will the psychiatric test manifest the delusional denial mode of the “no-need-to-heal, nothing-to-fix, business-as-usual” at the Supreme Court?


Psychometrics is that branch of psychology dealing with the measurement of mental traits, capacities and processes. Did the test show who among the applicants are the most insightful, sharp, conceptual, creative, and mentally honest? Or the most rational, incisive, detached and objectively critical? Or the hands-on judicial manager and effective leader and administrator? Or the most reserved, respectable, independent-minded, just and incorruptible?

Specialists and experts say these psychological tests can be used to assess the applicants for chief justice, and flush out possible areas of concern:

1. Pathological/psychological/neuropsychological problems. The test can measure the applicant’s depression, anxiety, paranoia, psychopathic deviance, schizophrenia, personality disorders, and other clinical disorders, if any. It has been used in various settings, including judging or decision-making, security screening, criminal sentencing, child custody, gun control and police selection.

2. Personality traits. Some tests are designed to describe personality differences among “normal” persons, others to identify abnormal patterns of personality, and still others to identify specific “personality disorders.” Personality assessment can be important in the selection of people for various types of jobs (police officer, executive, decision-maker).

3. Motivational factors. “Why we do what we do” is an important question for judges, employers, retailers, corrections psychologists, and persons facing significant life decisions. Psychologists have developed tests of motivation that help identify what is important to different people in predicting or influencing their behavior.

I had the good fortune of experiencing a close, though brief, personal brush with some chief justices. I relished observing them quietly. But a few  of my officemates and some lawyers, especially those in human rights, said, jokingly perhaps, that some of them justices were “sira-ulo” (crazy) or had “personality disorders.”

I worked at the high court as a clerk in 1974, the last year of my law studies, courtesy of our professor Roberto Concepcion, who had just left his job as chief justice. He told our class he had advanced his mandatory retirement because he was disgusted with the Marcos dictatorship that illegally authorized barangay assemblies to vote by the raising of hands in the infamous 1973 ratification cases during martial law. He urged some of us to enter public service after passing the bar, and get elected. When I bantered that politics was dirty, he rebuked us thus: “But who will cleanse the dirty atmosphere of politics? When young, reform-minded and idealistic people like you become weak-kneed, negligent and irresolute, God help this country!”


After Concepcion, five associate justices—Querube Makalintal, Fred Ruiz Castro, Enrique Fernando, Felix Makasiar and Ramon Aquino (in that order)—became chief justice one after the other. They were believed to be kowtowing to martial law. Historical accounts say that Makalintal and Castro were the “swing votes”  in the ratification cases that upheld the Marcos Constitution and made legitimate his brutal dictatorship. When Ninoy Aquino was denied his privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, Makalintal was quoted as saying, among other things, that the Supreme Court justices were conscious of “the future verdict of history.”

At which Ninoy aptly addressed them: “Today, you are my judges. Tomorrow, history will judge you.”

Lutgardo B. Barbo is president of Taguig City University, faculty member at Ateneo School of Government, and former president of Philippine Normal University.

Subscribe to Inquirer Opinion Newsletter
Read Next
Don't miss out on the latest news and information.
View comments

Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.

TAGS: featured column, JBC, judicial and bar council, lutgardo b. barbo, Supreme Court Chief Justice
For feedback, complaints, or inquiries, contact us.

© Copyright 1997-2020 INQUIRER.net | All Rights Reserved

We use cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. By continuing, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. To find out more, please click this link.