Quite a bit of ink has been spent on speculations surrounding the President’s possible choices to replace Renato Corona as the next Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Some have argued that the President now has the chance to implement needed reforms in the judiciary, and that someone from outside the Supreme Court should be appointed to the position. Others have argued that the President has to reestablish the credibility and independence of the judiciary, and therefore must appoint one of the senior Justices to the position.
For me, while reforming the judiciary is a noble goal, there is a pressing need for the President to demonstrate that he is not after the entire judiciary; after all, he and his spokespersons emphasized that stand.
As columnist Jarius Bondoc has argued in a recent column, any outside appointee will be politically colored. People will see the President as no better than his predecessor, Gloria Arroyo, who depended on her appointees to allow her to appoint her faithful servant Corona to the top post, in what many still see as a midnight appointment. Such an appointment will make any reforms impossible, as the outsider Chief Justice will have to fend off accusations of furthering the President’s political agenda.
As Bondoc correctly notes,
"Picking an outsider can be and has been done, to be sure. But it would be chancy at this point in history. Suspicion would hobble an outsider CJ that Aquino indeed took out Corona in order to control the Judiciary. More so, if that CJ comes from his Cabinet or party or financiers. Even the most brilliant would be branded a partisan. The outsider CJ would have lost even before the fight began."
Furthermore, Marites Vitug, author of the controversial book Shadow of Doubt, which casts a critical light on the Supreme Court, noted on ANC’s “Top Story” yesterday that any possible outside appointee should be “iconic”, which I took to mean “above reproach”. Unfortunately, some of the strong contenders from the outside are anything but iconic, and are seen to be heavily influenced by the President’s wishes.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) Commissioner Kim Henares are seen to be two of the top contenders up for consideration by the Judiciary and Bar Council (JBC), the body which vets the possible nominees for judiciary posts, including that of the Chief Justice. Unfortunately, both de Lima and Henares are tainted by the fact that they testified against Corona in the impeachment trial, which raises the question of vested interests.
Moreover, Commissioner Henares showed a lack of delicadeza when she said in an interview that she had an advantage over the other candidates. Such brazen arrogance is unbecoming of one who would be Chief Justice.
No, if the President wants to show that he did not have Corona ousted to further his own agenda, he must appoint someone from the judiciary, and that someone is Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, the most senior justice among the nominees. In many of his decisions involving former President Arroyo, who appointed him, Justice Carpio has shown that he is independent-minded, and has the authority and gravitas to be Chief Justice. By appointing Justice Carpio, President Aquino can show that he is hewing to his "matuwid na daan". Any other selection at this point in time will simply be politically motivated.
Columns of note on the subject:
- Former Supreme Court Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban lists down the qualities he thinks a Chief Justice should possess.
- Noted constitutional law expert Fr. Joaquin Bernas, S.J., explains the process by which the Chief Justice is appointed, and observes some of the problems in the process.
- Former Senator and Information Minister Francisco Tatad argues that the Constitution says nothing about the President should appoint the Chief Justice, and shares a novel proposal.