THE Judicial and Bar Council on Wednesday started vetting candidates for the first two appointments of President Rodrigo Duterte in the Supreme Court.
And the seven candidates for the vacancies to be left by retiring Associate Justices Jose Perez and Arturo Brion were subjected to intense grilling by the JBC members, led by Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, on pressing issues.
Public Attorney’s Office chief Persida Rueda-Acosta, the first to face the JBC, said her years of service under several presidents has ripened her for a seat in the highest court in the land.
“My credibility cannot be bought, my credibility can be attested to by the people and by my bosses in the judiciary. What I can bring to the SC is my credibility and my experience as chief of the Public Attorney’s Office,” she added.
The JBC asked the PAO chief about her public pronouncement that it was President Duterte himself who asked her to consider transferring to the judiciary.
“I have shown my independence in my opinions and my handling of cases. My basis is always the rule of law. Whoever recommended me to apply to the SC, that is their opinion and it will not be a reason for me to be biased in the future,” Acosta pointed out.
Another nominee, Centro Escolar University law school vice dean Rita Linda Ventura-Jimeno, a regular columnist of the Manila Standard, supports proposals to shift to a federal form of government.
Jimeno, recommended for the SC post by former President Fidel Ramos, said federalism would benefit development in the provinces, but stressed that decentralization and enactment of Freedom of Information Law and an anti-dynasty law would be necessary for it to succeed.
Jimeno also supported plans to amend provisions in the Constitution and suggested the establishment of constitutional courts to diffuse the responsibilities of the SC.
Sandiganbayan Associate Justice Samuel Martires, for his part, also agreed with the SC ruling on the Marcos burial case, saying he would have concurred with the opinion of Associate Justice Jose Mendoza that the case involves a political question that is beyond the judicial review power.
Duterte is reportedly eyeing also a Muslim appointee in the high tribunal, and two Muslim Court of Appeals magistrates who faced the JBC yesterday —Associate Justices Japar Dimaampao and Noel Tijam—are his options.
“By God’s grace, if I would be appointed to the Court, I can help the Court with all humility in avoiding erroneous decisions on sharia which will eventually amount to injustices to Muslims in this country. I can be of help in preventing such possible influx of decisions which are not resolved in accordance with sharia and existing Islamic jurisprudence,” he said.
He said he believes the SC committed an error in its decision upholding the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement between the government and the US.
When asked about Duterte’s plan to suspend the writ of habeas corpus to stamp out criminality in Mindanao, the magistrate said the Constitution has clearly set conditions for such declaration—existence of rebellion or invasion.
Tijam, during his turn, was asked how he could prove independence considering he was a classmate of President Duterte.
“I know the President. He’s full of pride and does not ask favors,” he replied, adding that he does not belong to any fraternity from San Beda law school where they both came from and cited his track record of ruling against policies of former presidents.
Department of Justice (DOJ) chief state counsel Ricardo Paras III, who already applied for previous vacancies in the high court, also faced the JBC again and explained his position on extra-judicial killings.
“Each case is different from the other in terms of the manner and circumstances they we carried out. We may have to be investigate each and every case to prove if there’s really systematic method,” Paras told JBC members.
Davao Regional Trial Court Judge Rowena Apao-Adlawan shared Paras’ opinion and believes the President had nothing to do with the killings of drug suspects as alleged by critics.
The interviews will continue today with three more aspirants for Perez’ post – CA Mindanao Executive Justice Romulo Borja, CA Justice Amy Lazaro-Javier and lawyer Joseph San Pedro.
Seven other candidates for the both vacancies will no longer be interviewed because of their previous interviews over the past year.
They are CA Presiding Justice Andres Reyes Jr. and CA Justices Apolinario Bruselas Jr., Rosmari Carandang, Stephen Cruz and Jose Reyes Jr., Quezon City Judge Reynaldo Daway and Sandiganbayan Justice Alex Quiroz.