Wednesday, August 04, 2021

Seares: Next SC chief justice: ‘not a woman’

“Gusto ko yong bilib ang tao sa integrity (of Sereno’s successor). Of course, he must not be a politician. Lalo nang hindi isang babae.”

-- President Duterte

THE Constitution lists the qualifications of a candidate for a Supreme Court justice: (1) citizenship, (2) age (40 years or over), (3) experience as judge or law practitioner (15 years or more), and (4) “proven competence, integrity, probity and independence.”

The chief justice doesn’t have a separate special list of qualifications. The president appoints the associate justices and the CJ, usually from among the AJs, for each vacancy that occurs during his term.

Duterte’s criteria

When President Duterte said that he’d pick as successor to ousted-by-quo-warranto Ma. Lourdes Sereno a person of integrity, he only mentioned a fourth of the tougher requirement #4. He didn’t mention “competence, probity, and independence.”

Why should we be concerned? The Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) names the three persons from among whom the president will choose. The greater part of the job rests on the JBC. It is assumed that the list it submits to the president contains nominees who, if they’re not the best and brightest, have all the qualifications and none of the disqualifications.

The JBC is faulted for the Sereno fiasco: it certified her as one of “proven integrity,” etcetera. Well, she may indeed be fit but who’s to be blamed for letting her in without having all those SALNs? And it did not or could not tell the House and, later, the SC that Sereno, as far as JBC is concerned, passed its standards.

JBC’s independence

But how independent was the JBC that stamped its approval on Sereno? Most of JBCs six ex-officio and four regular members can’t reject a president’s request (unofficially of course) for a favorite nominee to be in the list.

There are some who argue for the old method, before 1987, when the Senate served as the screening body for SC appointees. It had its flaws, politicians were all over, but it produced excellent appointees, they claim.

Nostalgia won’t matter. But the lessons from the Sereno incident, in which JBC apparently failed or was superseded, do matter. The Sereno case must instruct both the JBC and the president on pitfalls of choosing the CJ. Unless the attitude is reduced to acceptance: “it’s all right to have a fucked-up CJ as long as he or she is our fucked-up CJ.”


What could disturb the seriousness and care in picking Sereno’s replacement -- assuming her ouster is already irreversible -- is Duterte’s quip on those who must not fill the position. Politicians and women, he said, are out of contention..

Politicos -- favorite object of bashing by many, including their peers (Duterte is one) -- may not mind. But why pick on women?

Not only that he’ll be accused again of sexism and misogyny, it lends strength to Sereno’s charge that Duterte instigated her removal by quo warranto.

Door slammed

There has been no large splash on the pool of public opinion though. No angry noise yet from the women activists.

Not like the president’s “shoot-the-women-rebels-in-the-vagina” comment. Or Duterte’s “the-mayor-gets-the-first-crack” when a pretty Australian missionary was gang-raped.

Still, excluding women from becoming a chief justice has slammed a door that once opened for Sereno as the country’s first woman leader of the high tribunal.


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