On picking the next Chief Justice-A A +A
Monday, June 18, 2012
FOR PNoy, picking and choosing the right Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is far from being the easy task that many of us may think. Having initiated the impeachment of Chief Justice Renato Corona on the argument that he was too beholden to the former President Gloria Arroyo to be independent, President Aquino cannot appoint one who is identified too closely with him, not if he wants to avoid the criticism that he’s doing an “Arroyo” himself. For me that strikes out DOJ Secretary Leila de Lima and B.I.R. Commissioner Kim Henares.
Under ordinary circumstances, the ideal choice should have been Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, on the basis of his being the most senior among the High Court jurists left behind. Carpio, however, was the one bypassed by Mrs. Arroyo in favor of Renato Corona, and his personal conflict with Corona and former President Arroyo is well-known.
For that reason, PNoy cannot appoint Carpio without fueling the conclusion that his appointment is simply part of the campaign to put GMA in jail and that Justice Carpio is not independent of Malacañang. Appointing Carpio will weaken public trust in the Supreme Court. It’s a pity though because professionally Antonio Carpio is eminently qualified to become Chief Justice. He just happens to be a victim of unavoidable circumstance.
The President has the right to pick Corona’s replacement from lawyers outside of the current justices of the High Court or of the Court of Appeals. He can even choose a lawyer who is not a member of the judiciary.
Many years ago, President Manuel L. Quezon appointed my late grandfather, Emilio Y. Hilado into the Supreme Court. Lolo Emilio leaped from being a practicing lawyer into an associate justice by that presidential act. For PNoy, however, his choice of an outside candidate for Chief Justice must be someone who is respected by the existing justices if the new CJ is to effectively exercise his or her “primus inter pares” role on them. Do we have someone like that in the present list of nominees?
For many years now, the Supreme Court as the policy and procedure-making body of the judiciary has been woefully lacking in creativity and resolve to institute reforms within the judicial system. If we suffer from slow rather than speedy justice; if judicial rules of procedure, whether from antiquity, weak enforcement or the incompetence of appointed judges are perceived to be irrelevant and ineffective, we can only blame the primary cause on the Supreme Court. As the primary source of ideas, inspiration and initiative within the Judiciary the appointment of the right Chief Justice becomes absolutely vital. Is President Noynoy Aquino up to it? Big question begging for an answer.
If he will ask me, I will still recommend that the President consider the next Chief Justice from within the ranks of justices, not necessarily from the Supreme Court but also from the Court of Appeals.
I wager that the appointee will find it easier to assume the leadership of the High Court and be accepted as such by the other justices if he or she already possesses the rank of justice before his or her appointment as Chief Justice. The trick, however, is to find one who not only possesses the legal qualification for the post but is also perceived to be independent from the appointing authority and who is creative and committed enough to initiate urgently needed reforms in our judicial system so that it becomes an effective partner in Government’s effort to reform and make itself relevant.
Definitely, choosing the next Chief Justice is not going to be easy and PNoy must do it the hard way.
Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on June 18, 2012.