In interview of SC aspirants, JBC asks about Judiciary trust rating, anti-terrorism law, same-sex marriage
This file photo shows the Supreme Court.
Philstar.com/ Erwin Cagadas

In interview of SC aspirants, JBC asks about Judiciary trust rating, anti-terrorism law, same-sex marriage

Kristine Joy Patag (Philstar.com) - June 2, 2021 - 7:37pm

MANILA, Philippines — The trust and approval rating of the Judiciary, which is lower than other officials of the government, figured in at the Judicial and Bar Council public interview of Supreme Court justice aspirants on Wednesday.

Lawyer Benedicta Du-Baladad, the lone candidate from private practice to face the JBC on Tuesday, noted that other than the disposition of cases, the Judiciary also faces a problem with declining trust, which is a problem of perception.

Responding the Chief Justice Alexander Gesmundo’s questions, she said one problem she wishes to address is the low trust ratings of the Judiciary. “We have to arrest that, your honor, because the Judiciary is at the heart of a democratic society like ours,” she said.

Du-Baladad is the founder CEO of a firm specializing in taxation and related corporate services. She also served the Bureau of Internal Revenue. She was first to face the panel on Wednesday.

The JBC is screening applicants for the associate justice seat Gesmundo vacated when he was appointed as chief justice.

In a later follow-up question, Du-Baladad acknowledged she would be coming from the outside, as an applicant not from the Judiciary. She said she cannot say anything more specific on how to address the problem until she sees the “workings in the inside.”

She expounded: “We have to reform ourselves, we have to show the public that there is a change, we are doing a change in perception whether removing perception that justices can be sold. Those are things we have to look into, zero in on cause of that perception.”

In a Pulse Asia poll released in October 2020, results showed 44% of Filipinos approved of then-Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta’s performance, while 13% said otherwise. The survey showed that 68% of Filipinos are aware of Peralta, with 39% of trust rating.

Sandiganbayan Associate Justice Lagos however said he does not believe the SC should be swayed by low trust ratings. “Because among the three branches of government, the judiciary… should be insulated… The Judiciary members don’t need popular support. They have the security of tenure,” he pointed out.

The Sandiganbayan justice added: “For me, it doesn’t matter even bad ratings come up as long as members believe they’re doing their job.”

Lagos meanwhile voted to convict former Rep. Imelda Marcos (Ilocos Norte) of graft in 2018.

Anti-terrorism law

Applicants were also asked to weigh in on the pending petitions against the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020.

Retired SC Justice Noel Tijam, JBC member representing the academe, prodded Sandiganbayan Associate Justice Geraldine Econg on her opinion on the law that is facing 37 legal challenges at the SC.

The Sandiganbayan justice noted that the law is presumed to be constitutional, but law experts and many sectors raised that “the definition of terrorism is vague, overbreadth; that it violates the certain Constitutional rights of citizens and punishes acts even mere intent.”

But Econg said: “Firmly, I believe that we should not scrap the ATA all together.”

Econg penned the ruling that acquitted Sen. Ramon “Bong” Revilla on a plunder case over the misuse of P224.5 million of allocated Priority Development Assistance Funds

She also told Tijam that she believes that the SC cannot supply the deficiency in the ATA or soothe the apprehension of petitioners but issuing special rules like the writ of amparo, under the tribunal’s rule-making powers.

“Because that’s judicial legislation,” she added.

Fellow Sandiganbayan Associate Justice Rafael Lagos opined that the SC’s power of judicial review would give it the right to look at the anti-terrorism law.

Tijam pressed: The SC can say that the Congress enacted and the president signed an unwise law?

But Lagos said not unwise, but “justices have their own way of thinking and if they find something unconstitutional in the ATA they might strike down, not the entire law but particular provision that would violate a Constitutional right.”

Same-sex marriage

Sandiganbayan Justice Econg meanwhile mentioned the petition filed by lawyer Jesus Falcis on same-sex marriage, which was junked due to lack of legal standing, as a ruling where she would have dissented from.

“[The] matter is of transcendental importance whether same-sex marriage can be had but case dismissed in procedural ground,” Econg said, noting that the high court had, for several times, set aside procedural defects.

“Regarding same-sex marriage, it’s worth taking a look and Congress should change the definition in family code,” she added.

For Du-Baladad, she said she believes there is nothing that prohibits same-sex marriage, but she acknowledged that there would be a question on whether interpretation may be stretched in marriage of two: “When it is between man and woman, can we say that if you’re feeling like a woman though youre a man, would that qualify?”

But she noted: “It’s the union — we may not call it a marriage — we can say the union of people what they’re after there is not marriage but consequences of being married.”

Asked on what SC decision he “disagrees” with, Court of Appeals Associate Justice Ronaldo Roberto Martin cited the 2018 ruling SC Third Division ruling Racho v. Tanaka.

In the said decision, the court granted the petitioner for review on certiorari on a Las Piñas court ruling that denied Rhodora Illumin Racho’s petition for judicial determination and declaration to capacity to marry.

“By virtue of Article 26, second paragraph of the Family Code and the Certificate of Acceptance of the Report of Divorce dated December 16, 2009, petitioner Rhodora Ilumin Racho is declared capacitated to remarry,” the ruling read.

But Martin said he has “reservations how it was arrived [at].” He noted that in subsequent cases after Racho v. Tanaka, cases have been remanded to lower courts and the SC did not automatically grant recognition.

Martin penned the CA ruling that the SC reversed in the People v. Romy Lim case, where the high court also laid down a mandatory policy in arrests and seizures related to illegal drugs. 

He added that he is also in favor of reviewing Republic v. Sereno, where the SC granted the Office of Solicitor General’s quo warranto petition against then-chief justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.

"Given the magnitude of its aftermath, I came to agree that only impeachment is the only way out for a justice," Martin also said.

JBC public interview will continue on Thursday.

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