MANILA, Philippines - The Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) will vote today for its choices to the Supreme Court amid a crisis of ethics in the highest court of the land.
The shortlist of the JBC, the body that vets nominees to the judiciary, will be submitted to Malacañang from which President Benigno Aquino will choose his first appointee in August.
During his term, Aquino will be able to appoint five justices to the Supreme Court. But the President may appoint only four of them because of his position against midnight appointments.
The last retirement on the Court, under Aquino’s watch, will take place on April 2016, which is covered by the appointments ban during elections. The Supreme Court exempted itself from this ban in a controversial ruling.
With a promise to take a new and straight path, many are watching President Aquino’s first appointment to the Court. Twenty-eight have applied for the lone vacancy on the Court, including known academics and legal scholars. Some JBC members say that the number of applicants shows confidence in the selection process under the new administration.
The Supreme Court justices, in a traditional practice, voted for their own choices on Tuesday (July 27). They are: Court of Appeals Justices Jose Reyes, Noel Tijam, and Remedios Fernando. The fourth placers, who got the same number of votes, were Sandiganbayan Justice Francisco Villaruz and Court of Appeals Justice Hakim Abdulwahid.
The JBC is not bound by the choices of the Supreme Court, who happen to be all insiders in the judiciary. Only the JBC is mandated by the Constitution to select judges and justices. The JBC is chaired by the chief justice. Members are the secretary of justice, the chair of the Senate and House justice committees, and four regular members. They represent the private sector, legal academe, retired Supreme Court justices, and the Integrated Bar of the Philippines.
However, President Aquino has yet to appoint a fourth regular member to fill in the vacancy left by Amado Dimayuga, who represented the legal academe. The Philippine Association of Law Schools has endorsed Antonio Abad, dean of the Adamson College of law. Another contender for the post is Artemio Tuquero, justice secretary during President Joseph Estrada’s term, and a known Iglesia ni Cristo member.
Old boys club?
The former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Law, Raul Pangalangan, and the Ateneo Law School dean Cesar Villanueva received only two votes each. Same with Prof. Maria Lourdes Sereno, executive director of the Asian Institute of Management Policy Center.
Pangalangan, in the past, has been shortlisted at least twice for the Supreme Court but was never appointed. This is Villanueva’s second attempt to join the Court.
Judiciary insiders say that some of the Court of Appeals justices have been lobbying with JBC members to be included in the shortlist. We earlier reported that Tijam asked to meet with Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, who sits on the JBC, but she rejected his request.
De Lima reportedly told Tijam that she couldn’t meet with him because he’s a candidate for the Supreme Court. De Lima, we learned, wanted to send a message that propriety should be observed in the JBC.
Del Castillo digs in
Aquino will make his choice at a time when the Court is hounded by an unprecedented plagiarism scandal. Justice Mariano del Castillo allegedly lifted parts of a decision on an internationally watched case. (Click here for story.)
Del Castillo, a former Court of Appeals justice, was appointed by President Arroyo. He flaunted his ties to Mrs. Arroyo when he thanked her, in a letter published in a newspaper, for arranging a meeting with a cardiovascular surgeon when Del Castillo had a heart bypass operation.
A Newsbreak review of the Vinuya v. Romulo case showed that Del Castillo copied from three materials written by legal experts abroad without properly attributing these to the authors.
In this decision, the Supreme Court junked the petition of 70 Filipino comfort women to compel the Philippine government to get a public apology from Tokyo and to provide reparation to victims of sexual abuse during World War II.
Marvic Leonen, dean of the University of the Philippines College of Law, called this act “intellectually dishonest” and said Del Castillo should resign to protect the honor of the Court.
Del Castillo has circulated a letter to the justices denying that he plagiarized parts of the decision. He said that the quotes from the foreign articles were “only appendages, or at the very least, provide small contribution to the resolution of the issues…” (Click here for related story.)
The Court on Tuesday (July 27) then formed an ethics committee to investigate the matter. Chaired by Chief Justice Renato Corona, the working chair is Justice Teresita de Castro, and members are Justices Roberto Abad, Jose Perez, and Jose Mendoza.
How the Court will handle this case bears watching. In Australia, a federal court magistrate was forced to resign in 2006 after she was exposed as a serial plagiarist. In the US, the Michigan Supreme Court ordered the public censure of a district judge in 1989 when he was found to have plagiarized an article he submitted for publication in a law review.