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Opinion

Seniority fits Carpio as next Chief Justice

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc - The Philippine Star

Seniority, President Rodrigo Duterte says, dictated his choice last weekend of Teresita Leonardo de Castro as new Chief Justice. He means tenure, not age. Having been placed in the Supreme Court in 2007, De Castro led the Judicial and Bar Council’s three shortlisted nominees. Justices Diosdado Peralta and Lucas Bersamin joined the SC in 2009. Duterte disavows personally knowing any of them.

Seniority is time-honored in the Judiciary. Having all trained in and practiced law, magistrates are differentiated by length of service. De Castro would be CJ for only 41 days, since she mandatorily will retire on turning 70 on Oct. 8. Still, being most senior, her last skillful acts can spur reforms in the third branch of government.

Lack of seniority was the root of ex-CJ Maria Lourdes Sereno’s fall. She was the newest SC justice, barely two years in office, when she applied for and was made CJ in 2012. Five more senior peers were bypassed. Judicial inexperience allegedly led to a series of unconstitutional acts. Congressmen sought her impeachment; five justices unprecedentedly testified against her in investigative hearings; her fellows removed her by 8-6 quo warranto vote.

The JBC will be very busy these next weeks. It must vet candidates for two SC vacancies, vice Samuel Martires who has become Ombudsman, and De Castro. In anticipation too of De Castro’s departure as CJ, it quickly must nominate at least three.

Seniority qualifies Antonio Carpio to be the next CJ. His very rank, as sole Senior Associate Justice, denotes that he is of lengthiest tenure. He joined the SC in 2001. He has been the most senior since 2009. As such, he thrice automatically had been nominated for CJ. Twice he was bypassed, in 2010 in favor of Renato Corona, and in 2012 of Sereno. Out of delicadeza, he turned down his third nomination last June. He had opposed Sereno’s ouster by quo warranto, and so did not wish to personally benefit from the vacancy.

But the moral issue will melt when CJ De Castro leaves in Oct. There would be a “normal” void, so to speak, in the top Judiciary post.

It is hoped that Carpio would accept nomination, and lend his expertise to the higher calling. It is every lawyer’s dream to become CJ. That Carpio sacrificed personal ambition for moral conviction shows the sterner stuff of which he is made.

There has been mounting acclamation for Carpio to be CJ. Unprecedented in the Judiciary’s history, statesmen, magistrates, and eminent citizens have been clamoring for his ascent as the fifth highest official of the land.

The times call for a stabilizing leader. Duterte is in the forefront of bloody wars against drugs and ideological-religious terrorism. The Vice Presidency is being contested at the electoral tribunal that consists of the SC justices themselves. A Bangsamoro plebiscite is coming up, followed by congressional-local elections. On the nation’s plate too are a shift to federal government, and persistent calls for extra-constitutional “revolutionary junta.” China is turning more and more aggressive in claiming the entire South China Sea against ASEAN neighbors. Carpio’s mastery of Constitution and law, domestic and international, would make the Judiciary the crucial balancing force.

Carpio has had experience in statecraft. He was President Fidel Ramos’ chief legal counsel in 1992-1998. In that post he provided the bases to demonopolize telecommunications, power, shipping, and airlines. His notable decisions, in ponencia and in dissent, have shaped mining; outlawed pork barrels; and defined executive privileges, libel, contempt, bigamy versus religious exercise, and people’s initiative, among others.

His researches and dissertations on the South China Sea issue have guided world opinion for Philippine sovereign rights. By digging up ancient maps of China and the Philippines, he debunked China’s unfounded “historical ownership” of open seas. He helped win for the country the arbitration at The Hague against China’s grab of Scarborough Shoal and concreting of seven other reefs into island-fortresses within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

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The Sigma Kappa Pi Fraternity celebrates its 50th anniversary on Saturday, Sept. 1, 6 p.m. with a grand homecoming reunion at the UP Diliman Bahay ng Alumni.

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8-10 a.m., DWIZ (882-AM).

Gotcha archives on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Jarius-Bondoc/1376602159218459, or The STAR website https://www.philstar.com/columns/134276/gotcha

RODRIGO DUTERTE

SUPREME COURT

TERESITA LEONARDO DE CASTRO

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