New chief justice by August

by Jojo Malig,

Posted at May 30 2012 09:14 PM | Updated as of May 31 2012 06:24 PM

MANILA, Philippines - The formal process of choosing the next chief justice may start as early as Monday, if acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio, who is also now acting Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) chairman, convenes the council en banc on Monday.

Atty. Jose Mejia, JBC regular member and academe representative in the council, described the long process of formally announcing the Supreme Court chief justice opening in a publication, to applications and nominations being submitted to the JBC, to the screening, up to the JBC's submission of a shortlist to President Benigno Aquino by August at the earliest.

In an interview with ANC's Top Story on Wednesday, Mejia said Aquino cannot reject the JBC list and must choose from the names submitted to his office.

He cited one incident during the administration of then President Gloria Arroyo, who allegedly requested the list  be returned.

"But the JBC at the time refused, at the end of the day, whatever list is submitted to the President is tied up. He cannot return that," Mejia said.

He said a minimum of 5 names will be submitted to the President. "Reasonably, mga 6 or 7."

He said nothing prevents acting Chief Justice Carpio from being nominated and chosen by the President to become the next high magistrate.

Pros and cons

The nominees can be from within the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals, and from the outside.

He said there are pros and cons in choosing an outsider to be the next chief justice.

"May upside, may downside. You have to consider the learning curve, the demoralization within. It has its upside. It's up to the President to weigh those factors," he said.

He also believes that Supreme Court employees who were loyal to Corona and took part in protest actions to oppose his ouster can work with the new chief justice.

"I hold office in the SC. I would like to believe that they are reasonable enough to actually support the new chief justice."

Closer look at applicants' SALN

Mejia said the JBC is likely to take a closer look at the statements of assets, liabilities, and net worth (SALN) of applicants and nominees for the top post in the judiciary.

He said applicants and those who accept their nomination as chief justice are required to file their SALNs before the JBC.

"Ang SALN ay isang standard document. As you apply, you are required to submit your SALN," he said. "We take a look at the SALN and somehow just base our assessment on the information that is placed on the SALN."

However, the impeachment and ouster of Renato Corona as chief justice due to discrepancies in his SALN and actual assets may prompt the JBC to assess applicants' SALNs more thoroughly, Mejia said.

"Maybe with what had happened, maybe we can take a closer look at this time on what is placed on the SALN," he said.

Isolated case?

He described Corona's case as "isolated" and said the SALN is already a waiver authorizing the government to look into one's finances.

"You are authorizing the Ombudsman to take a look at your bank accounts and properties you placed in the SALN," he said.

The  SALN disclosure should not deter those who are serious in becoming the next high magistrate, Mejia said. "It will deter those who have something to hide. Those who are generally interested, it's not a problem."

JBC's judgment call

He said that in hindsight, the previous JBC may have been partly to blame for putting Corona in power.

However, he said it was the JBC members' judgment call. "It's a risk that you have to take if the person will live up to the expectations."

In the selection process, Mejia said those those who have pending court cases will be disqualified. "For example, if you have a pending criminal cases, a civil case. They are automatically disqualified."

"Tapos kung wala ka nang kaso pero nagkaroon ka ng kaso before, at ang iyong penalty ay more than P10,000 or imprisonment, you are also disqualified. You are barred from applying," he added.