It is quite ironic that in the newly-born desire of government figures to actively push for a more transparent, fair and apolitical selection of the next Chief Justice in light of recent events (specifically ex-Chief Justice Renato Coronaâ€™s removal from office), did the said process become more politicized than ever.
While I have explained in my previous article that the current president Noynoy Aquinoâ€™s unstoppable mouth holds much of the blame for tainting the selection of the next chief magistrate with political prejudice, it appears that there are other crucial factors at work; namely, the candidates themselves.
Recently, news from the countryâ€™s media outlets have been littered with statements from some of the nominees for the position of Chief Justice who supposedly showed probity and integrity in their respective jobs, and so deserve a chance to nab the job of being the head of the Supreme Court. However, all of these displays of â€œprobityâ€ and â€œintegrityâ€ in mainstream media to cater to Filipino tastes hardly sound… judicial in nature; not very Supreme-Court-ly, to say the least.
First, we have one of PNoyâ€™s favorite ladies in the spotlight; the very likeable Justice Secretary Leila de Lima. Folks from the government showered de Lima with compliments about how she is very good at her job, and that she is fit for being a Chief Justice, given her astounding credibility in serving the public.
In separate nomination papers submitted to the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC), Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) and the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) chapter in Zambales province said De Lima exemplified the traits needed to head the Supreme Court.
While evidently flattered, the Justice Secretary appears to be eager to play a little game.
Justice Secretary Leila De Lima said she was not â€œpersonally interestedâ€ in the Chief Justice position but said she would have to think on her options.
Yes, your lady nominee is playing hard to get (pakipot in vernacular). De Lima also explained that she is not used to being in a collegial body, citing possible conflicts between her job and her own personality. She also felt uncomfortable about the prospect of being a Chief Justice, who is ideally not seen or heard, but rather read. But then, De Lima changed her tone as she went on.
â€œAlthough, I can always adjust to any environment or atmosphere. I can be professional. Pero doon ako nag-aalangan and whether at this point Iâ€™m ready to head such a crucial institution such as the Supreme Court,â€ she said, but added that she would also talk to President Aquino about it.
Of course people might object and argue de Lima is simply being humble instead of actually wanting the Court to chase her into becoming Chief Justice, but then a question will bother me: isnâ€™t the best way to display humility the rejection of the nomination to begin with?
I mean, think about it. De Lima, if we take her word for it, said that she is not personally interested in becoming Chief Justice. Thatâ€™s a major determinant of her capability to run the Supreme Court. How can you perform well in a particular job when you yourself admit that you donâ€™t want the job in the first place? De Limaâ€™s humility (if it exists) should result to her appeal to be excluded from the nomination. If she really wants the best for PNoyâ€™s â€œgood governanceâ€ program, surely she wouldnâ€™t want the possibility of a Chief Justice who didnâ€™t want to become one, and so would voluntarily reject her nomination?
Unless, of course, my suspicions are correct.
Meanwhile, we have our intrepid Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) commissioner Kim Henares to talk about. Together with de Lima, senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago expressed her opinion that they should not be included in the list of Chief Justice nominees, lest the Judiciary be politicized if they are appointed, since they stood witness against the former Chief Justice Renato Corona in his impeachment trial. Of course thereâ€™s no real law in the Constitution that does prohibit the two ladies from joining the bandwagon, and Henares was all too happy to take advantage.
Internal Revenue Commissioner Kim Henares, President Benigno Aquinoâ€™s shooting buddy and front-runner for the seat of ousted Chief Justice Renato Corona, said on Tuesday she had the edge over all candidates for top magistrate.
In a chance interview during the traditional diplomatic reception on Independence Day in MalacaÃ±ang, Henares told reporters that she was being lured by the opportunity the position of Chief Justice offered to undertake reforms in the judiciary.
Straight from the horseâ€™s mouth, and, in this case, the horse is Henares herself. Referring to the opportunity to become Chief Justice as if itâ€™s some sort of a calling, Henares then began to explain why she had this â€œedgeâ€ over the other candidates as if the CJ selection is some sort of a beauty pageant.
â€œIâ€™ve experienced the complaints of people about the adjudication system, from arbitration in the National Labor Relations Commission, all the way to fighting for your rights, youâ€™re bumping against big establishments,â€ said Henares, an accountant and lawyer.
â€œSo, I would say that I have an advantage over all the other people because I personally experienced all in the system itself,â€ she added.
Henares not only wants the job, but also supposedly has the necessary experience for the job; she wants to reform the way the judicial system works, and she has the â€œbest teacherâ€ to guide her. This might be received by others as nothing more than a naked hubris, but to many Filipinos, Henares might just appear to be the perfect woman for the job.
Indeed, a testimony from a private lawyer who nominated Henares speaks well of this claim.
â€œI believe in her competence and her integrity is beyond question,â€ lawyer Elpidio Jamora Jr. told INQUIRER.net over the phone on Friday, quoting from his nomination letter he submitted to the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) on Thursday.
What about the other nominees for the position of Chief Justice?
Before De Limaâ€™s nomination, different groups and individuals had recommended the appointment of Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza, Internal Revenue Commissioner Kim Henares and prominent lawyer and womenâ€™s rights advocate Katrina Legarda as Coronaâ€™s successor.
Also nominated were former Ateneo de Manila University law school dean Cesar Villanueva, Inquirer columnist and former University of the Philippinesâ€™ College of Law dean Raul Pangalangan and former Laguna Assistant Provincial Prosecutor Marianito Sasondocillo.
The five most senior justices of the Supreme Courtâ€”acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio and Associate Justices Presbitero Velasco Jr., Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, Arturo Brion and Diosdado Peralta â€”had also been automatically nominated for the post of Chief Justice.
We havenâ€™t heard much about the other nominees other than the two mentioned above (possibly except Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpioâ€™s public denial of the allegations pertaining to a looming Aquino dictatorship, as well as his refusal to the Palace’s invitation to a vin d’honneur). How come theyâ€™re not making themselves known? Thatâ€™s because it makes sense. The selection of Chief Justice is not like your typical senatorial or presidential elections, where your television is bombarded with jingles and credentials. The selection of the Chief Justice is not supposed to be politicized through mediaâ€”wait.
Then what about the way those two nominees Iâ€™ve mentioned used the media to play a silly cat-and-mouse game, or to brag your figurative battle scars?
The logical thing for de Lima to do is abstain from being a nominee, and yet she didnâ€™t, and chose to keep the country in suspense. Meanwhile, Henares is already showcasing her experience that serves as her â€œedge.â€ Could these nominees actually be promoting themselves to the Filipino people? Could they actually be campaigning in a way?
Indeed, the way things currently go, the supposedly independent nature of the judicial system is eroding, given by how our CJ nominees tend to politicize the process by showcasing themselves to the public through mainstream media, with the backing of the president supportive of their endeavor. Is it possible that weâ€™ll be seeing promotional ads for judicial nominees in the future? Who knows?
The way I see it, there are at least two ways if the government is really keen on preserving the autonomy of the Supreme Court. The first one would be to put a moratorium on what the media could cover. But that would be silly. After all, itâ€™s the innate function of journalism to inform the public on whatâ€™s currently happening in society; such a measure would be tantamount to depriving the people of information. We are then left with the other option, and this has to do with the nominees. Perhaps, like the other candidates who seem to know how things work, perhaps the nominees highlighted in this article can stop treating this nomination as some sort of a showbiz political arena and start respecting the selection process. In other words:
They can just shut up.