Congratulations to the JBC for the concise, civil, intelligent, and professional way it handled the nationally televised screening for a new Chief Justice. The proceedings shed a light on the personalities behind and workings of the most secretive of institutions, our Judiciary. It is ironic that a body tasked with the administration of justice should be so unaccountable, opaque and, by the public admission of practitioners and members alike, corrupt.
On the brighter side, the interviews displayed the depth of well-meaning and competent legal talent in this country. Lawyers universally get a bad rap (“What do you have when a lawyer is buried in the sand? Not enough sand.”), they are ranked second only to bankers, but the interviews made me understand why some lawyers choose to be lawyers and how the law can, dare I say it, be beautiful.
Classified by sector the 20 nominees for CJ are:
1. Associate Justices- Abad, Carpio (most senior and acting CJ), Brion, Leonardo de Castro, Sereno and Velasco.
2. Academe- Deans and former deans Diokno (De La Salle), Pangalangan (UP), Valdez (UE) and Villanueva (Ateneo).
3. Government- Bautista (PCGG Chair), Herbosa (SEC Chair), Jardeleza (Solicitor General), de Lima (DOJ Sec.), and Sarmiento (COMELEC Chair).
4. Private Sector- Cagampang-De Castro, Legarda, Morales, and Siangco.
5. Congress- Zamora.
The Supreme Court has temporarily ruled the JBC can be composed of 8 members, one more than the 7 provided by the Constitution. This mean two things: The Legislature is arguably over-represented in the Council but, perhaps more important, a majority of 5 (out of 8) is now needed to shortlist a candidate versus 4 (out of 7); raising the bar that much higher.
The JBC must recommend at least 3 nominees to the President. There are no Constitutional criteria other than “ independence, competence, probity and integrity”. Here are issues the JBC may consider:
Insider/Outsider- There are 6 incumbent Justices and 14 outsiders. An insider has traditionally been appointed as CJ, usually the most senior. This discourages politicking, rewards sitting Justices, promotes morale, dispenses with the learning curve, and encourages harmony.
The pro-outsiders argue they will promote “fresh thinking” and “healing”. The insiders dispel this supposed Court turmoil as a media myth, claiming they are a happy lot.
Age- The CJ’s retirement age is 70. There is an argument for not selecting somebody too young or too old. The former would be in office for around 20 years, the latter would create a vacancy about the time there would be a change in the Presidency in 2016. That could be destabilizing, witness the controversial “midnight” appointment of Corona. An older CJ would also not have enough the time (nor the energy?) to fulfill his mandate.
Bautista, (48) De Lima and Sereno (52) are the youngest ; and Abad, Zamora and Cagampang in their late 60’s are the oldest.
Independence- The President has been accused of wanting to monopolize all branches of Government. The appointment of a person from the Executive would only add to this fear. The criteria for independence works against those with previous business associations.
Wisdom- A good CJ need not be the brightest but he should possess the wisdom to know this and to maximize the individual potential of his colleagues.
Judicial philosophy- All the candidates profess allegiance to the law but some are more liberal or conservative as to its interpretation particularly on moral issues like birth control, individual freedoms and degree of judicial activism.
Managerial skills- The CJ must have the executive skills to drive his agenda. Good ideas are plentiful, getting them done is the hard part. The CJ must be able to walk the walk.
Passion- The CJ should have the passion and courage for reform. He should be an activist and have a vision for the Judiciary. Some candidates clearly have more of this than others.
Outside influence- Although they all profess to be immune, the JBC members are not beyond public opinion and messages from the Palace and other power brokers.
Leadership- Together with integrity and wisdom, this is arguably the most important credential. The Court is a body of equals. To succeed with his agenda, the CJ must be able to inspire his peers. This requires inter-personal skills, temperament and, most critical, the respect of his colleagues. The CJ must check his ego at the door.
My sense is the JBC will end up with 4-6 nominees: Carpio and Sereno among the insiders; De Lima (if she is not disqualified due to her pending disbarment cases), Jardeleza (unless his San Miguel connections are a minus) and Bautista (although his youth weighs against it) from Government; and either Pangalangan or Villanueva just not to disregard the academe.
Even if not chosen as CJ, there is still a vacancy to be filled in the Court to which all the outside candidates may aspire and be considered for future leadership.