On Tuesday, June 19, the Supreme Court has upheld its decision to void Maria Lourdes Sereno's appointment as the country's top judge.
Philstar.com, File
Who will be the next SC chief justice?
Kristine Joy Patag (Philstar.com) - June 19, 2018 - 2:23pm

MANILA, Philippines — The Judicial and Bar Council is tasked with determining who among the applicants for chief justice, a post again declared vacant are qualified for the position.

Two chief justices have been removed from office in succession: Congress impeached Renato Corona in 2012 and the Supreme Court voided Maria Lourdes Sereno’s appointment in May this year.

The dispositive portion of the unprecedented 153-page ruling penned by Associate Justice Noel Tijam reads in part: “The position of the chief justice of the Supreme Court is declared vacant and the Judicial and Bar Council is directed to commence the application and nomination process.”

READ: SC votes to oust Sereno

Despite the ruling’s wording that it is “immediate and executory,” the JBC opted to wait until the ruling that ousted Sereno became “final” before it opened the nominations for the next chief justice. A ruling of the SC is deemed final after it junks a motion for reconsideration filed by a party in the case.

On Tuesday, the SC has upheld its decision to void Sereno's appointment as the country's top judge. Now, all eyes are on the JBC.

RELATED: Judicial and Bar Council starts screening for new Ombudsman

What is the JBC?

The JBC is a seven-member panel created under Article VIII, Section 8 of the 1987 Constitution. It is tasked with screening all applicants to vacancies in the judiciary.

Upon announcement of the vacancy, those vying for the spot are given 45 days to file their applications and complete documentary requirements before the JBC.

All applicants must file their documentary requirements, which include application or recommendation, personal data sheet, certificate of employment, several clearances, medical examination results and Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth.

The applicants will also go through a psychological evaluation and a public interview by JBC panelists.

After the interviews, the JBC will draw up a shortlist that will then be submitted to the president, who holds the authority to appoint the new members of the judiciary.

The current composition of the JBC is as follows:

  • Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio, JBC Ex Officio Chairperson
  • Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, JBC Ex Officio Member
  • Sen. Richard Gordon, head of the Senate’s Justice Committee and Rep. Reynaldo Umali, chair of the House Justice Committee, share a seat on the council
  • Jose Mendoza, JBC regular member, represents the retired SC Justices and Executive Committee Chairperson
  • Jose Mejia, JBC regular member, represents the academe
  • Maria Milagros Fernan-Cayosa, JBC regular member, represents the Integrated Bar of the Philippines
  • Toribio Ilao Jr., JBC regular member, represents the private sector

Who may apply?

Under the Revised Rules of the Judicial and Bar Council, published on Sept. 20, 2016, a member of the judiciary should be a “natural-born citizen of the Philippines.”

Rule 2 (Constitutional and Statutory Qualifications for Nomination) of the said document also states: “Members of the Philippine Judiciary must be of proven competence, integrity, probity and independence, and members of the Philippine Bar.”

To be a member of the SC, one must also be at least 40 years old and must have been, for 15 years or more, a judge of a lower court or engaged in the practice of law in the Philippines.

Traditionally, all five senior justices of the SC are automatically qualified to apply for the chief justice post. Currently, the following sit as the most senior magistrates of the SC:

  • Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio* — Carpio has been a member of the high tribunal since Oct. 26, 2001, following his appointment by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. The most senior justice of the court was a member of the legal team that argued, and won, the Philippines' case on the West Philippine Sea before the Hague tribunal. Carpio continues to issue statements that go against the government position on the maritime dispute with China. He will retire from the SC on Oct. 26, 2019.
  • Presbitero Velasco Jr. — Velasco was also appointed to the position by Arroyo. He has been a member of the high tribunal since March 31, 2006. He is due to hang his robes up on August 8, upon reaching the mandatory age of 70. The JBC has already started processing the applications for the vacancy that Velasco's retirement will create.
  • Teresita Leonardo De Castro — De Castro has been serving the Judiciary for more than 40 years, starting as a clerk in the Office of the Clerk of Court of the SC in 1973. Also an appointee of Arroyo, De Castro is set to retire from the SC on October 8. The justice made headlines during the height of ouster cases—the impeachment proceedings at the House and the oral arguments at the SC—of Sereno for her strong words against the ousted chief justice.
  • Diosdado Peralta — Peralta is the youngest among the five most senior justices. Should he be appointed chief justice, he will hold the seat until March 27, 2022, when he reaches the mandatory retirement age of 70. Peralta was appointed by Arroyo in 2009. He started his stint as a judge at the Quezon City Regional Trial Court in 1994, where he handled cases related to heinous crimes and drugs.
  • Lucas Bersamin — Bersamin was appointed by Arroyo to the high court on April 3, 2009. He is due to retire on October 18, 2019. Bersamin was appointed as a trial court judge in Quezon City in 1986, and then rose to the ranks of Court of Appeals justice in 2003.

Should Duterte pick a current high court justice to head the SC, that would open up a new vacancy at the tribunal.

The president has already appointed four of the 15 justices of the court: Samuel Maritres, Noel Tijam, Andres Reyes Jr. and Alexander Gesmundo.

Before the year ends, he is expected to appoint two more to replace Velasco and De Castro.

*Should Carpio accept the nomination, his seat at the JBC will be occupied by the next most senior justice who is not an applicant for the chief justice post.

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