Sixteen people, four of them women, are vying for the Supreme Court post to be vacated by Justice Ruben Reyes Jr. this year.
A list provided by the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC), which screens and nominates candidates for positions in the judiciary, also showed that eight Court of Appeals (CA) justices are also in the running. Others in the list are three from the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan, including Presiding Justice Diosdado Peralta, and three are from the private sector.
Court of Tax Appeals Presiding Judge Ernesto Acosta and Solicitor-General Agnes Devanadera, who was considered before for an SC post, rounded up the list.
The JBC on Oct. 13 closed the nomination for the post to be vacated by Reyes, who is due to retire on Jan. 2, 2009, when he turns 70. Reyes, however, has decided to hold his retirement ceremony on Dec. 18, or before the SC takes a Christmas break.
JBC member Senator Francis Pangilinan had asked for an extension of 10 days for the submission of applications but Chief Justice Reynato Puno, JBC ex-officio chair, rejected the proposal, saying the number of applicants was enough.
The nominees will be short-listed to five names when the JBC submits its recommendations to the President. Reyes’s replacement will be the first in the last batch of seven SC appointees to be named by the Mrs. Arroyo before she leaves the presidency. By that time, the entire SC would have been all her appointees, including Puno.
The SC’s exceptional circumstance next year has prompted Pangilinan to initiate a court-appointment watch to ensure that the integrity of the process of vetting is upheld and observed by the President.
Certain quarters have observed that the President has been stacking the Court with loyal justices, which undermines the independence of the judiciary.
The JBC, for its part, has been under fire for allowing politics to influence its job and is largely blamed for the judiciary’s sorry image. The judiciary’s image hit rock bottom following the bribery scandal in the CA surrounding the Meralco case.
Slim chances for appeals court
This early, court observers are saying that applicants from the CA have slim chances of being vetted because of the bribery scandal.
Applicants from the CA (in order of seniority) are Justices Portia Hormachuelos, Martin Villarama Jr, Andres Reyes, Remedios Salazar-Fernando, Josefina Salonga and Juan Enriquez Jr, Mariano del Castillo and Jose Reyes Jr. CA presiding Justice Conrado Vasquez Jr, and Justice Jose Sabio, who is sixth in seniority, are not in the running. Vasquez was chastised by the SC on the bribery mess while Sabio, the self-styled whistle-blower, was suspended.
In the Sandiganbayan, aside from Peralta, the applicants are Associate Justices Francisco Villaruz and Edilberto Sandoval. Villaruz was highly tipped as SC justice before, but the President chose then Labor Secretary Arturo Brion instead.
The three who are in private practice are former Internal Revenue Commissioner Jose Bunag, dean of the Ateneo University law school Cesar Villanueva, and lawyer Rodolfo Robles. Bunag is senior partner of Bunag and Uy law office while Villanueva is senior founding partner of Villanueva, Gabionza & De Santos law firm. Robles is president and chairman of the board of LandPhil Management and Development Corp which is into real estate. He was also the founding dean of the Arellano law school in Taft.
The shortlist for Reyes’s soon-to-be-vacated post is expected to set the bar on future screening and nomination processes by the JBC in the SC. Pangilinan, with JBC member J. Conrado Castro, is initiating the Bantay Korte Suprema watchdog to ensure that the process is transparent and the President’s appointment beyond reproach.
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