(UPDATED) In an unexpected move, the newest member of the Supreme Court (SC) openly spoke about his ordeal during his nomination to the high tribunal, and called it his "near death experience."
Speaking before the graduating class of the University of the Philippines (UP) College of Law on Monday, a day before he meets his colleagues at the high court for their regular en banc session, Associate Justice Francis Jardeleza hit Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno and Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio for objecting to his nomination on grounds that he "lacked integrity" in his handling of the West Philippine Sea arbitration.
Jardeleza, who assumed his post at the high court on August 19, 2014, said it was "the start of the most difficult two months of [his] life."
He almost did not make it to the high court despite obtaining a majority vote of four in the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC). Because of the opposition to his nomination, Jardeleza was excluded in the shortlist of nominees from which President Aquino would choose the next SC appointee.
Jardeleza elevated his case to the SC en banc, accusing the JBC of depriving him due process and failure to follow its own rules on the disposition of oppositions.
"You will read most about what happened in Jardeleza v. Sereno. What the case will not tell you, though, is how much pain the vicious untruths hurled my direction caused me and my family. It will also not tell you why I could not talk about the West Philippine Sea arbitration.
"You spend a whole lifetime building a reputation worthy of your parents... You also spend a whole lifetime building a reputation worthy of your family... So when my integrity was attacked, I knew I had to fight back, if only to clear my name," Jardeleza said.
'ACCUSERS VIOLATED LAWS WITH IMPUNITY'
Unfortunately for Jardeleza, it was hard to present his defense because he was constrained to refrain from divulging information about the West Philippine Sea arbitration on pain of violating the lawyers' Code of Ethics and laws that protect the confidentiality of documents such as the ones pertaining to the case.
"It was hard to defend myself because I couldn't talk about the West Philippine Sea arbitration. First, as a lawyer, I had to keep the confidences of my client, the Republic of the Philippines. Under our code of ethics, we carry the secrets of the client to the grave. These secrets include case litigation strategy and tactics. You do not telegraph these to the adversary. That would be treason.
"Second, I couldn't even confirm or deny the existence of a leaked memorandum purporting to show the judgment calls being debated in the highest levels of the Executive Department of Government. [T]here are laws and administrative orders prohibiting public officers charged with the custody of confidential and secret documents from revealing their contents. My accusers violated these laws with impunity. Criminal wrongdoing was piled upon brazen disregard of the inviolability of state secrets. Laws were broken when (1) persons who had custody of official documents leaked them to persons not members of the legal team, and (2) when the latter recklessly placed them in the public domain," Jardeleza said.
But then again, fortunately for Jardeleza, voting 7-4, the SC decided to order his reinstatement in the shortlist. In the end, President Aquino chose Jardeleza as the 173rd magistrate of the high court.
"I was so close to professional death, an inglorious end to a career I had worked so hard to nurture. It is an experience I would not wish on anybody."
OF 'SHARKS' AND 'BULLIES'
Addressing the UP Law graduating class, Jardeleza said the experience taught him that one must stand up against "unkind persons" who "try to do you harm."
"'Don't back down from the sharks.' 'Face down the bullies.' These are among the life lessons given by Naval Admiral William H. McRaven to the graduates of the University of Texas, in the commencement address he gave in 2014. To quote Admiral McRaven: 'There are a lot of sharks in the world. If you hope to complete the swim, you will have to deal with them.'
"Sharks and bullies can be brutal. I cannot guarantee that you will triumph over the bullies and the sharks. In my case, I almost perished. I was bloodied. But I stood my ground. I pushed back. So that's my advice to you: when faced with a bully, push back. With everything you've got," Jardeleza said.
Despite being the most junior magistrate, Jardeleza and the other justices are equals at the high court, it being a collegial body.
There are fifteen sitting justices at the highest court of the land.