Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio administers the oath to new Chief Justice Lucas Bersamin yesterday as Bersamin’s wife Aurora and retired chief justice Teresita de Castro look on. Photo courtesy of Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvic Leonen.
Lucas Bersamin is chief justice
Edith Regalado (The Philippine Star) - November 29, 2018 - 12:00am

Duterte questions Carpio’s stand on South China Sea

DAVAO CITY, Philippines — President Duterte has appointed Associate Justice Lucas Bersamin as chief justice, bypassing the most senior member of the Supreme Court, Antonio Carpio.

Duterte also appointed Court of Appeals Justice Rosmari Carandang as the newest member of the Supreme Court (SC).

Bersamin was chosen among five candidates shortlisted by the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC), including Carpio and Associate Justices Diosdado Peralta, Estela Bernabe and Andres Reyes Jr.

“I signed the appointment before I left Manila… the other night. So I have chosen one already,” the President told media late Tuesday night at the newly inaugurated Bohol-Panglao International Airport.

Bersamin, whose positions on several cases have favored the administration, replaces Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, who retired on Oct. 10 after serving as chief justice for less than two months.

Duterte had earlier said he appointed De Castro to restore the seniority tradition in the SC, adding he would follow the tradition in picking her replacement. Carpio, who has gone against the administration on several critical issues particularly the maritime dispute with China, then accepted his automatic nomination.

But the President said Carpio had previously rejected his nomination as chief justice.

“He said he would not accept it so I chose the person who is next in rank,” Duterte said.

Carpio did not accept his nomination to succeed Maria Lourdes Sereno, who was ousted as chief justice for her supposed failure to file some of her statements of assets, liabilities and net worth.

He said he had voted against Sereno’s ouster through a quo warranto petition so he did not want to benefit from it. But he said the circumstances were different in replacing De Castro.

In announcing his selection of a new SC member, Duterte also said,“Carandang is actually the most senior in the Court of Appeals ... She and Carpio were classmates but Carpio was only the salutatorian. He was not the valedictorian because it was Carandang but (she) stayed in the (CA).”

Duterte questioned Carpio’s stance on the South China Sea and reiterated that he would not sacrifice government office because of the maritime dispute.

“What do you want with the arbitration? So I’ll order my police to go there in Palawan and shoot it out? What if our troops are placed in danger?” the President said.

Last week, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said Carpio’s critical views on the Duterte administration’s handling of the South China Sea dispute would not affect his bid to become the next chief justice.

“I don’t think you can derive a conclusion that just because someone is a critic of the administration, you cannot be appointed,” Panelo said at a press briefing last Monday.

Bersamin, who graduated from the University of the East College of Law, was appointed to the CA in 2003 and as SC associate justice in 2009 by former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Bersamin had a private practice from 1974 to 1986, when he was appointed a trial court judge in Quezon City by the late president Corazon Aquino.

Bersamin was professor at the Ateneo Law School, UE College of Law and University of Santo Tomas Faculty of Civil Law. He was also special lecturer at the College of Law, University of Cebu in 2006.

He continues to lecture for the Philippine Judicial Academy.

The JBC forwarded to Duterte the shortlist of SC chief justice candidates over the weekend.

Judicial independence

Bersamin was among the SC magistrates who voted for the ouster of Sereno in the quo warranto case in May and testified in the earlier impeachment proceedings against her before the House of Representatives.

He penned the SC’s ruling granting bail to former senator Juan Ponce Enrile in the plunder cases involving the multibillion-peso Priority Development Assistance Fund scam and also the decision clearing Arroyo in the plunder case involving P366 million in Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office funds.

Bersamin also voted with the majority in the decision that allowed the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos’ burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani and the ruling that affirmed the martial law declaration by Duterte in Mindanao.

Despite his voting record that appeared to favor controversial policies of the Duterte administration, the new Chief Justice has vowed judicial independence of the SC in his one-year term.

“My voting record is there. Sometimes I vote against the government, sometimes I vote for government. As far as the law is concerned, I’m independent,” he told reporters at a press briefing hours after taking his oath.

“I don’t know the President. We have never met... I come from the North; the President comes from the South. When he campaigned, I rooted for another candidate,” Bersamin added.

He believed that his appointment is “God’s will.”

Bersamin, however, challenged the perception on judicial independence as simply going against the position of the government.

“I have to disappoint you if your perspective of independence is for the government to lose in cases because we always decide based on arguments. Most of the time the government presented very good arguments,” he stressed.

“There are many cases where the government loses, but the issue on judicial independence is not raised,” he lamented.

Bersamin said he would rather leave the explanation to Duterte on the issue of seniority but asked the public to just “trust the wisdom and respect the decision” of the President in appointing him.

Bersamin explained that he would not want to compare himself to his colleagues who were also nominated for the post, saying he could only stand on his 32-year record in the judiciary.

“We don’t have problems with camaraderie in the court. The public must be assured that we’ve restored collegiality,” he pointed out.

“The biggest problem is the misconception that the SC doesn’t care about lower courts and I’d like to correct that,” he revealed.

Associate justice

Duterte yesterday appointed Carandang as associate justice of the SC for the vacancy left by De Castro in August.

Carandang was handpicked from a shortlist that included six other CA justices – Manuel Barrios, Apolinario Bruselas, Edgardo delos Santos, Japar Dimaampao, Ramon Garcia and Amy Lazaro-Javier.

She is the seventh magistrate appointed by Duterte to the SC. The first six are now Ombudsman Samuel Martires, Associate Justices Noel Tijam, Andres Reyes Jr., Alexander Gesmundo, Jose Reyes Jr. and Ramon Paul Hernando.

Tijam, Hernando and the two Reyeses all came from CA, while Martires and Gesmundo came from the Sandiganbayan.

Carandang, 66, will serve in the SC until January 2022, when she reaches the mandatory retirement age of 70.

She is an alumna of the University of the Philippines College of Law, where she graduated cum laude and class salutatorian in 1975. She was admitted to the Bar the following year.

Carandang was appointed to the CA in 2003 and has taught law at the Philippine Christian University School of Law and the Manuel L. Quezon University School of Law.

She was a Manila regional trial court judge from January 1994 to March 2003.

Independence of judiciary

Malacañang expressed optimism that Bersamin and Carandang would uphold the independence of the judiciary.

“We are confident that Chief Justice Bersamin and Associate Justice Carandang will continue to uphold judicial excellence, assert its independence and stand firm against erring members of the bench, the Bar and court personnel as they lead the third branch of the government, together with the rest of the SC justices, in remaining steadfast in its role as the guardian of the rule of law,” Panelo said in a statement.

“Both justices belong to what (President Duterte) calls the best and the brightest,” Panelo added.

Panelo said Bersamin is presently the most senior justice in the SC in terms of service rendered under the judicial branch in various capacities.

Carpio’s bid

Earlier, Panelo said while there was no assurance that Carpio’s seniority would make him the chief magistrate, the justice’s criticisms of Duterte’s policy on the SCS maritime dispute would also not hurt his chances.

“It’s the President’s call and the prerogative lodged on him by the Constitution; it’s discretionary,” Panelo said.

Duterte previously said he would follow the seniority rule when making appointments in the judiciary.

Carpio administered Bersamin’s oath at the SC yesterday.

Senators yesterday welcomed Bersamin’s appointment.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III said he became aware of Bersamin’s legal expertise in 2008.

“(Bersamin) helped me as Dangerous Drugs Board chairman then. Congratulations!” Sotto said.

Sen. Grace Poe also welcomed Bersamin as the new chief justice.

Bersamin was one of the justices who voted in favor of Poe when her citizenship was questioned before the 2016 presidential elections.

While there are also qualified candidates for the post, she said it was Duterte’s prerogative to choose who he sees fit.

“(Bersamin is) brilliant and I think he gets along well with his colleagues and I believe he’ll be fair,” Poe told reporters.

Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III also extended his congratulations to Bersamin. – With Alexis Romero, Edu Punay, Paolo Romero

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