Carpio, the most senior magistrate in the Supreme Court (SC), said he would decline a nomination for the chief justice post for several reasons.
Edd Gumban
Antonio Carpio to decline chief justice nomination
Edu Punay (The Philippine Star) - June 21, 2018 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio is not interested in the top judicial post.

Carpio, the most senior magistrate in the Supreme Court (SC), said he would decline a nomination for the chief justice post for several reasons.

For one, Carpio said he would not want to benefit from the ouster of Maria Lourdes Sereno that he opposed when he voted with the minority in the high court’s decision on the quo warranto petition.

“On a personal level, because I voted against it, I don’t want to benefit from it so I will decline any nomination… I have to be consistent with my position that the quo warranto was not the proper way to remove a sitting member of the court,” Carpio said in an interview with ANC.

Carpio was one of six magistrates who dissented from the SC ruling that invalidated the appointment of Sereno in 2012 and ordered her to vacate the top judicial post.

In his dissenting opinion, Carpio said Sereno could not be removed via quo warranto proceedings because she is an impeachable official who could only be ousted through the impeachment process in Congress.

But Carpio believed Sereno committed culpable violation of the Constitution and should be impeached after she repeatedly failed to submit statements of assets, liabilities and net worth  (SALNs) when she was still teaching law at the University of the Philippines and during her application for the chief justice post.

He maintained his position on the case during the voting of the high court on Sereno’s appeal last Tuesday.

“What was shown in the records is she did not file her SALNs... she failed to file for several years. It was an intentional non-filing,” he pointed out.

Carpio stressed that such failure to file SALNs can be corrected by simply filing them and “it is deemed compliance.”

Carpio, who is set to retire in 2019, also said he does not “hanker for any position at this point.”

“If you are a chief justice, you only have one vote, same as a vote of an associate justice. It doesn’t mean that because you’re a chief justice, the other justices will follow you; they will follow you if your ponencia (decision) is correct, convincing, powerful,” he explained. 

The SC had directed the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) to now start the search for the next chief justice after rejecting Sereno’s appeal.

Under the Constitution, the President should appoint Sereno’s replacement within 90 days from Tuesday.

Tougher screening

Following Sereno’s ouster, the JBC said it would now implement more stringent rules for SC contenders.

“I guess we will have to be stricter this time around so that such instances of lapses won’t happen again, where the requirements are not complied with and yet they are included in the short list,” Oriental Mindoro Rep. Rey Umali said. 

Umali is chairman of the House of Representatives’ committee on justice and is a member of the seven-man JBC that screens candidates for the judiciary and the ombudsman, and which submits a shortlist to the President for appointment. 

At the same time, Umali reminded contenders that filing of their annual SALNs is an important prerequisite, citing the cases of Sereno and the late chief justice Renato Corona.

“It is not only a simple requirement, it is even a constitutional duty so we really have to be strict about that, especially for positions like the SC and the judiciary in particular because the appointees will be there until they reach the age of 70,” Umali stressed.

Umali also urged the President to observe the seniority rule in the judiciary when he makes the next appointment for chief justice.

He noted Sereno was the most junior magistrate in the 15-man tribunal when she was appointed in 2012. 

“I hope the President will do the right thing in terms of following the tradition, because if somebody is bypassed, then conflicts will really happen within certain organizations. Hopefully, we can avoid this,” Umali proposed. 

Carpio, for his part, was already nominated for the chief justice post in 2012 but he was bypassed by the appointment of Sereno by former president Benigno Aquino III.

Observers said chances of Carpio to be appointed by President Duterte to the top SC post might be affected because of his persistent stance against the policy of the administration on the territorial dispute with China in the South China Sea.

Carpio vowed to pursue his aggressive stance on the country’s territorial dispute with China – even if it would cost his possible appointment as chief justice.

Carpio believes that fighting for sovereignty of the country is more important than being appointed to the top SC post.

“That’s far more important than the presidency. I mean, the President can come and go, but our sovereignty should remain forever with us,” he said.

After Carpio, the two most senior justices in the high court – Associate Justices Presbitero Velasco Jr. and Teresita Leonardo-de Castro – are expected to retire in July and October this year, respectively. 

The fourth member in seniority rank, Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta, still has four years before retirement.   

Umali said all the remaining 14 SC justices are “senior.”

“Many of them are nearing retirement. I just hope the President will do the right thing,” he said.

The JBC is chaired by Carpio with Sen. Richard Gordon and Umali as ex-officio members on sharing term, and Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra.

The regular members of the council are retired SC justice Jose Catral-Mendoza, retired judge Toribio Ilao, and lawyers Jose Mejia and Milagros Fernan-Cayosa.  

On the other hand, the SC has endorsed four aspirants for the upcoming vacancy to be left by the retirement of Velasco.

In their session last Tuesday, the justices voted and selected four of the 12 applicants for the SC post.

Court of Appeals Associate Justice Rosmari Carandang topped the list with 10 votes from the 14 justices, followed closely by Court Administrator Jose Midas Marquez with eight votes. – Delon Porcalla

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