The SC Needs Leadership, Not Gumption

 Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda, we now find, has two jobs. He speaks for the President and when not so occupied, does as well for BIR Commissioner Kim Henares. One wonders whether this is with or without the consent of his boss.

Last week Lacierda talked glowingly about the virtues of Henares as potential Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Edwin intimated the President favors her for the post. Considering that the period of nominations is still not over and that P-Noy announced he wants time to make his decision, Lacierda is either clairvoyant, surprisingly candid or just doing his job as publicist for Ms. Henares.

 Kim seemed quite happy with the accolades. Having undergone the agony of battling big time lawyers in her dismissal case against her former employer, ING Bank, she said she felt well qualified to head the Judiciary. I am not certain I fully follow the line of thought but that could just be me.

 There is an unwritten rule that CJ nominees are not expected to campaign for the position so for Henares & Co. to toot her horn is, well, hardly circumspect. Lacierda has subsequently backtracked but the taste remains in our mouths.

 DOJ Secretary Leila de Lima, another nominee for CJ, has taken the more politically correct tack of having others do the talking (“I would rather others extol my virtues” is I believe the way she put it).

 The common denominator between Henares and De Lima is, one, their gender, two, their feistiness and three, their hobby of shooting with the President. Since when has being (a female) Dirty Harry been a qualification for Chief Justice? Miriam Santiago, I suppose, has made a living of this all her political life. No wonder Anabelle Rama is running for public office.

 By contrast, when a political male exhibits any form of bragadaccio, he is considered boastful and abrasive. We have not had a Filipino politician who has emulated Miriam and lived to tell.

 The Constitution requires the next Chief Justice to be “competent, independent, and of probity and integrity”. Since then, testicles, at least in a female, has been added as among the qualities most needed for the Office. This must say something about our cultural psyche and attitude on women.

 Speaking of credentials for CJ, leadership is nowhere mentioned yet, all other things equal, it is the most important virtue required of the post. The Supreme Court is a collegial body and unless the CJ possesses the leadership and respect needed to motivate, cajole or even beg the 14 other Justices into action; nothing much will happen.

 This space does not question Henares or De Lima’s qualities to serve as Justices of the Court. They are seemingly honest and possibly legally competent even though little has been mentioned of this, so engrossed are we with their toughness. They are close to the President –shooting together does this- which raises the issue of independence, but even this can be an over-worked notion. Does the Constitution really believe a CJ handpicked by the President will not be beholden to him, even a little bit?

 What this space raises is the issue whether the ladies -or any outsider for that matter- are the right persons to lead the highest tribunal of the land at this point in their lives and that of the Court.

 The Supreme Court is undergoing a difficult time. It just (literally) lost its head and there are issues as to its effectiveness as an institution. What it needs now is a leader who can unify the body and heal the trauma. The Court needs leadership and this can best come from within the most senior Justices. An outsider, however brilliant and honest, will not have the shared experience to command the attention of his peers.

 It would therefore serve the best interests of the Court and the nation if the CJ was appointed from among the current membership. It would not only recognize that not all the Justices are tainted, it would also send the message the Administration is not out to form the Court in its image and likeness, and that the President respects the independence and the traditions of the Judiciary.

 In the meantime, those in the Palace may want to curb their public enthusiasm for their personal nominees. It does not speak well of them and their office and harms their candidates in the nation’s eye.

 Lastly, and a propos of nothing at all, word is going around that Sec. Purissima would not mind seeing his BIR Commissioner elevated to the Supreme Court but that, as they say, is another story.

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About Leo Alejandrino

The blog is principally a commentary on Philippine politics and economics.
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2 Responses to The SC Needs Leadership, Not Gumption

  1. Seemingly, so much oxymoron here. How may a President or someone respect “the independence and the traditions of the Judiciary” as the President is the only appointing power? And their appointee is confirmed by Congress only. Besides, which prized “independence” and which honored “traditions” are referred to? Perhaps, a better alternative is to amend the Constitution, pronto, so that members of the SC are also voted at-large by the people. Then the SC might be in equal footing with the two branches of Government. For now, how might an appointee be equal with whom he was appointed by and confirmed by? I think that it has always been meant that the SC should be a minion of the appointing and the approving powers (has it been otherwise, ever?; in form perhaps); never mind the mumbo-jumbo and gobbledygook in the Constitution. Common, guys, be real. “Kung walang nanloloko, walang maloloko.”

    • manuelbuencamino says:

      Mr.Utanes,

      I think you misunderstand the process of selecting a CJ. The president picks a CJ from a list submitted by the JBC. Congress has no role in the process other than it has one senator and one congressman included in the JBC. Congress does not confirm and the president can only pick a CJ from the JBC shortlist.

      Here’s what the Constitution says, it’s in very simple English, no “mumbo-jumbo and gooblegygook” to muddle through:

      Art VIII Section 8. (1) A Judicial and Bar Council is hereby created under the supervision of the Supreme Court composed of the Chief Justice as ex officio Chairman, the Secretary of Justice, and a representative of the Congress as ex officio Members, a representative of the Integrated Bar, a professor of law, a retired Member of the Supreme Court, and a representative of the private sector.

      (2) The regular members of the Council shall be appointed by the President for a term of four years with the consent of the Commission on Appointments. Of the Members first appointed, the representative of the Integrated Bar shall serve for four years, the professor of law for three years, the retired Justice for two years, and the representative of the private sector for one year.

      (5) The Council shall have the principal function of recommending appointees to the Judiciary. It may exercise such other functions and duties as the Supreme Court may assign to it.

      Art. VIII Section 9. The Members of the Supreme Court and judges of the lower courts shall be appointed by the President from a list of at least three nominees prepared by the Judicial and Bar Council for every vacancy. Such appointments need no confirmation.

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