Corona's successor should be 'beyond moral reproach'-A A +A
Monday, June 25, 2012
A RETIRED top official of the Supreme Court said the next Chief Justice should be beyond moral reproach to be able to heal the judiciary, which is bruised by the impeachment of ousted Chief Justice Renato Corona.
Corona was convicted by the Senate impeachment court last May 29 after 44 days of trial for failing to declare his peso and dollar deposits in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth.
In an interview on ANC's Headstart, retired Chief Justice Reynato Puno said Corona's successor should have moral ascendancy to be able to harmonize the contrasting interests of two other branches of government: the executive and the legislative.
"We need a Chief Justice who would not only be towering in terms of intellect capacity, but would also have moral domination over justices and lower court judges and someone who will restore the relationship between the judiciary and the two other branches of government," said Puno, the predecessor of Corona to the Supreme Court.
As a former head of the Supreme Court, Puno sat as ex-officio chairman of the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC), a constitutional body tasked to screen and submit a list of nominees to vacant judicial posts for the President's consideration.
Puno said that in his experience, sitting justices of the Supreme Court have an edge over "outsiders" seeking to be considered for the top judicial post because they are already familiar with the High Court and its processes.
"An insider would always have the advantage of looking into the existing problems of the judiciary, and in continuing the solutions that are found to be good. There have been instances in the past when that factor was not considered as a decisive factor. The judiciary is a world of its own, it is some sort of a mini-government," he said.
He also said that more than being a lawyer, it is important for the next Chief Justice to have experience as a judge, which would have trained him on court matters, particularly in separating relevant facts from the irrelevant.
But while some of the nominees for Chief Justice submitted to the JBC have no prior experience as a judge, he said that should not be a hindrance for them to perform well, once appointed.
"(Being a judge) trains you to make a judgment on the credibility of the witnesses and of course, trains you to apply the law appropriately on the facts of the case. So it's good to have court experience as a judge," said Puno.
"We've had cases here and abroad where justices were taken from the ranks of the academe and from Congress, and a lot of these people did well in the SC. There's a wide range of choices from among the current list of CJ nominees. Obviously you see some lightweights, but if you give it a long, hard look, you also see heavyweights, bar topnotchers, professors, outstanding graduates of world-class universities. You have a smorgasbord of choice," he added.
Vincent Lazatin, executive director of the group Transparency and Accountability Network (TAN), supported calls for sitting SC justices to undergo JBC interview, saying the last search for Chief Justice at the retirement of Puno had set the precedent for them to be scrutinized by the screening council.
Lazatin said that in allowing the interviews to be covered by the media live would put additional pressure on JBC members to justify who they would be putting in their shortlist, from which the President will choose the head of the high court.
Lazatin said that during the 2010 JBC interview of nominees for Chief Justice, sitting SC justices such as then Associate Justices Corona, Arturo Brion and Teresita Leonardo-de Castro had allowed the JBC to interview them.
All magistrates of the SC have already been nominated for the Chief Justice post, including the five most senior – Antonio Carpio, Presbitero Velasco Jr., de Castro, Brion and Diosdado Peralta.
Of the 14 sitting justices, Justices Mariano del Castillo, Estela Perlas-Bernabe and Bienvenido Reyes have declined their nomination.
Meanwhile, the JBC has released its draft guidelines for the live media coverage of the JBC public interviews to promote transparency and accountability in its processes.
Under the proposed guidelines, it will be the SC’s Public Information Office that shall govern the accreditation of media personnel who will be covering the public interviews.
JBC member Senator Chiz Escudero said there will be no limitations on the number of media representatives who will be covering the public interviews, which may start on the third week of July.
As of last count, there are already 65 nominees, 13 have accepted their nominations, 11 declined, while two applied for the post.
On the letter of former Solicitor General Francisco Chavez questioning the present composition of JBC, particularly the two representations from the legislative branch, Escudero said any legal issues should be brought before the SC for resolution.
In his letter, Chavez claimed that Congress should only have one ex-officio member to the panel, instead of two -- Escudero and Iloilo Representative Niel Tupas, who are both ex-officio members of the JBC, representing the Senate and House committee on justice, respectively.
Chavez asked for clarification as to why the Senate and Congress have separate representatives in the council despite that Section 8, Article VIII of the Constitution allows only “a representative of the Congress” to be part of the panel tasked to screen candidates for a judicial post and come up with a shortlist for consideration by the President.
Chavez also questioned JBC’s practice where one vote is given to each of the ex-officio members from the two chambers of Congress. He said this practice may create an impasse during the eight-member council's voting in case of a tie.
Escudero maintained the validity of the current composition of the JBC, saying under the Senate and House Rules, being an ex-officio member of the JBC is part of the job of the chairs of the Senate and House committee on justice.
"The JBC has been doing this even before I became a member of the JBC way back in 2001-2002. The JBC's position on that is that, unless enjoined by the Court, it will not stop such practice," he said.
He said it would be better if Chavez would bring the case before the Court, which has the jurisdiction on issues pertaining to the interpretation of the Constitution. (JCV/Sunnex)