Next chief justice by growing clamor
GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) - July 18, 2018 - 12:00am

There’s mounting acclamation for Antonio Carpio to be Chief Justice. It’s unprecedented in Supreme Court history. Retired and sitting magistrates, statesmen, eminent citizens are urging him to accede. All extol his reputation and skill. Carpio leads five most senior SC justices automatically nominated for the top post. None of the rest – Presbitero Velasco, Teresita Leonardo de Castro, Diosdado Peralta, and Lucas Bersamin – have accepted. They defer to Carpio, the longest tenured. Giving way too, SC outsiders are not applying for the CJ vacancy. The fate of the last two CJs calls for a successor most acceptable to peers in stature and expertise. Leadership of the Judiciary is Carpio’s for first crack.

He is uneager, though, as a matter of principle. He had fought the removal by quo warranto of CJ Maria Lourdes Sereno. Held as inapt for CJ since 2012 for incomplete asset declarations, the latter could only have been taken out by impeachment. Carpio so stated in dissent to the majority verdict. He is averse to benefiting from what he deems an unjust CJ vacancy.

That puts the Judicial and Bar Council in a tizzy. A month since it opened applicants and nominees for vetting, none have come forward. A short list of CJ possibilities must be submitted to President Rody Duterte. By JBC rule, nominees must consent to inclusion in the list, which must contain at least three names. The Constitution gives the President only three months – in this case till September – to fill up any SC vacancy.

Ex-CJ Hilario Davide says Carpio took no part in Sereno’s firing, so is not morally conflicted. Twice in fact did he resist the quo warranto, in first instance and on appeal. Past foreign secretary Bobby Romulo, national security adviser Joe Almonte, among esteemed leaders, echo that point. The Integrated Bar of the Philippines, which binds all lawyers, believes Carpio can fix the SC and the Judiciary. The JBC thus is inclined to waive its rule of prior assent, as Davide suggests. To Carpio, Davide pleads: “Personal consideration must now yield to the demands of public interest and of the good of the service. He should not deprive the President the opportunity for a wider field of choice for the best for the (SC) in particular, and the Judiciary and the people in general.”

If Carpio relents to the growing clamor and Duterte picks him, he would be CJ till October 2019, on turning 70. From now to then, the country will face big events. A vice presidential protest, mid-term elections, and federal shift are on national agenda. Constitutional guidance by the third leg of government can stabilize the two political ones. Beyond those, internal criminality and external aggression threaten the Republic. A seasoned magistrate’s wisdom would be vital for national direction. By no design, Carpio is attracting a constituency of patriots and visionaries.

Experience and independence define Carpio. He is presently acting CJ, since Sereno’s dismissal in May. He had twice held the post before, last March when Sereno went on leave, and 2012 when CJ Renato Corona too was ousted for hidden wealth. Twice too Carpio had been bypassed, although the most senior for CJ in 2010 and 2012. The breaks in tradition partly led to today’s SC and national woes.

Carpio was chief legal counsel to President Fidel Ramos, 1992-1998. He undertook major reforms that today give Filipinos more choices in telecoms, sea and air travel. He was President Gloria Arroyo’s first SC appointee in 2001. Born in Davao City, he had taken up Economics at the Ateneo de Manila, and Law at the University of the Philippines. He was Law class valedictorian and sixth highest in the 1975 bar exams. He cofounded the Carpio Villaraza Cruz Law Firm.

Among Carpio’s notable judicial stands, in ponencia or dissent, concern state shares from mine profits, pork barrels, limits of executive privilege, libel, contempt, people’s initiative in constitutional revising, bigamy versus religious exercise, legal personality of local water districts, equal protection in government wages, employment relations, presidential appointing powers, and citizenship issues of presidential candidates Fernando Poe Jr. and Grace Poe in 2004 and 2016.

What Carpio began as a personal research has turned into a global assertion of Philippine maritime and territorial rights. In 2010 he dug up ancient maps of China and Asia that debunk Beijing’s “historic” claim to the entire South China Sea. Old Spanish, Japanese, British, and American files on Luzon in turn chart Scarborough Shoal as Philippine territory. After Beijing’s 2012 grab of that seamark, Carpio helped draft Manila’s UN arbitration case. He explained in 70 international forums Manila’s entitlements under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Manila won the arbitration in July 2016. Carpio urges Malacañang to use the victory to regain regional peace along with seven reefs in Manila’s maritime zone that Beijing concreted into island-fortresses. Duterte’s spokesmen avow continuing, if silent, defense of sovereignty. Carpio’s passion is needed to bolster national interest and survival.

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