At 11 am, Thursday (April 2), Court of Appeals (CA) Justice Lucas Bersamin received the news from the High Court that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo picked him to replace Supreme Court Justice Adolfo Azcuna, who hung his robe on February 16, 2009.
Bersamin was expected to get the coveted post after topping the shortlist submitted by the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) to Malacañang with eight votes. He edged out CA justices far more senior than him, such as Justice Portia Hormachuelos, who ranked second in seniority, and Justice Martin Villarama, the third most senior. Bersamin ranked 15th in seniority.
Aside from this, court observers said his apparent closeness to another recent SC appointee, Justice Diosdado Peralta, placed him ahead of the competition. Bersamin, in fact, was the one who nominated Peralta for the post left by Justice Ruben Reyes on January 3.
The two also have ties with Erlinda and Carlos de Leon, President Arroyo’s relatives and special assistants.
In a phone interview with Abs-cbnnews.com/Newsbreak, however, Bersamin said the perception of being close to the powers-that-be is far-fetched, and that the public should “give him credit." He gave his views on his career in the judiciary and his appointment to the Supreme Court. (See interview below.)
Bersamin has decided on high-profile cases involving the fertilizer scam, Urban Bank's receivership, and a land ownership case of the Arroyos, among others.
He was part of the CA first division which ordered the extension of the freeze order on the 22 bank accounts of former Agriculture Undersecretary Jocelyn “Joc-joc” Bolante in October 2008. The freeze order was supposed to expire in July, but it was extended until December 2008.
Bolante is tagged as the mastermind in the P728-million fertilizer scam, where public funds used for fertilizer purchases were allegedly diverted to the campaign funds administration candidates in the 2004 elections.
In 2004, Bersamin junked the administrative complaints filed by former Urban Bank president Teodoro Borlongan against Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Governor Rafael Buenaventura and five other BSP officials in connection with Urban Bank’s receivership.
Borlongan questioned the Monetary Board’s order to close Urban Bank and its decision to place the bank under the receivership of the Philippine Deposit Insurance Corporation.
Bersamin also ruled against the First Gentleman Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo in a land ownership case. He was one of two dissenters in a 2007 decision penned by fellow SC nominee Justice Juan Enriquez, who granted an almost 9-million-square meter estate at Tatalon, Quezon City to the Tuasons, Arroyo’s maternal kin.
In his over 20 years in the judiciary, he was sanctioned by the Court once. As a judge in 1996, Bersamin was admonished for not securing a notice for Veronica Gonzalez before he ordered to have the annotations of the notices of levy on her land title cancelled.
Family of politicians
The new SC justice is part of the ruling political clan in Abra. His brother, Eustaquio “Kit” Bersamin, is the current governor of Abra. Another brother, Luis, served as a mayor, governor, and congressman before he was slain in 2006, allegedly under the orders of political rival Vicente Valera.
In his public interview with the JBC held last February, however, Bersamin vowed that his family's political power would not influence his independence as a jurist.
Bersamin: I have my own independence
abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak's Purple S. Romero interviewed Court of Appeals Justice Lucas Bersamin after President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo appointed him on Thursday to the Supreme Court. Excerpts:
Q. Your caseload was raised as a reason for you to not be considered for the SC. (Philippine Star columnist Federico Pascual said in his April 2 column that Bersamin has a backlog of 151 cases, with only seven cases decided.)
A. He calls it a backlog but it’s not; it’s a caseload. Justices who do not dispose cases quickly could not be judged right away as inefficient. It’s physically impossible to decide on all the cases. It also depends on their [cases] difficulty.
Q. There is a public perception that because you are a close friend of Justice Peralta, he could easily “sway” you to vote his way in the High Court. (Bersamin and Peralta served as judges in the QC regional trial court in the early ‘90s).
A. Where is that perception coming from? I cannot deny my closeness with Justice Peralta. We have known each other since we were at the RTC [Regional Trial Court]. But does not mean iisang boto namin (But does that mean we will have the same vote)? Give him credit, give me credit. I have my own independence, he has his own independence.
Q. The SC is not always amenable to requests for copies of their Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Networth (SALN). Would you be willing to disclose yours?
A. It’s a collective decision. I don’t mind if you get mine. The SALN has always been a public record. But the SC would have to decide if they’re going to publicize it. I cannot speak for the others.
Q. You talked about the need to address the problem of extra-judicial killings during the SC summit in July 2007. Will you pursue reforms you that would expedite the resolution of such cases?
A. You could see that in my adjudication. I decided the first writ of amparo case (In 2008, Bersamin ruled that retired army Gen.Jovito Palparan had a direct hand in the alleged abduction of farmers and brothers Raymond and Reynaldo Manalo.--eds). It takes independence of mind to decide such cases.
Below are excerpts from his interview with the Judicial and Bar Council last February.
Q. How will you handle pressures in and outside the court?
A. I will continue to act as I have acted in my years in the judiciary. I will maintain my independence. The people who helped me along the way would never try to pressure me. Maybe I have bent over backwards in a few cases, especially for those who have less, to equalize things. But in other cases, I do not remember that I bowed down to pressures.
Q. Your brother belongs to the party of the president. Does that not give you a line to the appointing power?
Q. What would be the difference between a politician and a jurist?
A. I would be insulated from intrigue. I will not be forced to do anything, only apply the rule of law.