MANILA, Philippines – Independence, probity and competence aren’t the only criteria that the Judicial and Bar Council should use in choosing the next Chief Justice. According to JBC member and Sen. Francis Escudero, a lawyer aspiring to become the next chief magistrate should also display the wisdom of Solomon.
Speaking to ANC’s Headstart, Escudero agreed with the statement of former Chief Justice Reynato Puno that the next Chief Justice should be a “healing chief magistrate” of unquestionable integrity and probity that will unite the judiciary.
“The closest definition of wisdom that I can look or find would be Solomon. But how do you put these applicants to the test? Buti kung may mga anak yan. Hindi naman lahat mga nanay yan. Hahatiin mo yung bata para patunayan kung sino talaga nagmamahal sa bata,” he said.
In the interview, the senator said wisdom is something that is “difficult to gauge.”
“It’s something that will manifest itself once a situation is presented before him. How exactly do you gauge? How do you look for, how do you identify whether a person has wisdom?” he asked.
Escudero said the JBC will examine closely the track record of the nominees to see who are the most qualified for the post.
He said the next Chief Justice should also be a good administrator since he is the head of an entire branch of government.
“Ang pinagkaiba ng Chief Justice sa Supreme Court justices is - he is the administrative head of the SC. Maybe we should ask them about their administrative experience, if they have ever run an office or if they know how,” he said.
Escudero admitted that the expectations for the next Chief Justice have been set impossibly high because of the impeachment trial and removal of Chief Justice Renato Corona.
He also said he is unsure if the JBC can find someone “iconic”, as suggested by veteran journalist Marites Vitug. He said an unknown could be appointed to the position and then gain respect because of the wisdom of his decisions.
“Sometimes the position carries with it the respect, which, if he is unknown, he would have to earn but initially it will be given by virtue of the title he is holding…He will have to prove himself true to his organization, his people, and the people working for him and under him,” he said.
Next CJ to come from lower court?
One possibility that he broached is that the President appoint a Chief Justice from the lower courts and not the SC.
In the interview, Escudero said judges from lower courts usually apply for the position of Supreme Court magistrate but never for the position of Chief Justice.
He said it is usually incumbent SC magistrates who apply for the position of Chief Justice because the lower court judges do not want to be seen as getting ahead of their superiors.
“Ang nag-apply lang for Chief Justice within the organization puro incumbent magistrates lang kasi tatalunan nga naman nila yung mga bossing nila sa Supreme Court. But to me, that is not sacred,” he said.
Why inhibit himself? Why think he is being arrogant or stepping on the shoes of his bosses in the SC? It should not be a disqualification whether he is a Sandiganbayan, Court of Tax Appeals or Court of Appeals justice? If the material is there, there is no distortion. No wage distortion or organizational distortion,” he added.
Escudero admitted that not all the Supreme Court justices rose from the ranks in the judiciary. Headstart host Karen Davila noted that at least 5 incumbent SC justices “have never been a judge, never written a decision, never handled a courtroom, never heard witnesses speak and never decided on a case” before being appointed to the SC.
The senator said he has proposed a law that will ensure a “ladderized judiciary” wherein judges for higher courts should come from the lower courts. This means that regional trial court (RTC) judges should come from the metropolitan trial courts, while the Sandiganbayan, Court of Tax Appeals and Court of Appeals justices will come from RTC.
However, he said the measure has met opposition from quarters who said appointments in the judiciary will be straitjacketed.
Escudero said ensuring a ladderized justice system would inspire lower court justices that they could be appointed to a higher position. “We have to inspire these judges. We have to bet on them. If they can’t see the possibility of moving up the ranks, then they will do whatever they want,” he said.