MANILA -- The Judicial and Bar Council has set a minimum number of years left in service as a requirement for applicants wishing to join the Supreme Court.
In its 2020 Revised Rules of the Judicial and Bar Council released Sunday, the council now requires at least 2.5 years left in service for applicants who have served as:
- Associate Justice or Presiding Justice of an appellate court
- Court Administrator
- Chairperson of a Constitutional Commission
- Solicitor General
- Department Secretary
Other applicants who have not served in these posts and private practitioners should have at least 5 years left in service.
This effectively puts an age limit on applicants from 65 to 67.5 years old. Supreme court magistrates serve until 70.
The JBC, the constitutional body tasked to screen applicants to the Judiciary and other key positions, explained the reason for the new rule:
"In the selection of nominees for a vacancy in the Supreme Court, the Council must consider their age with a view to discourage the appointment of those who would not be able to serve it for a reasonably sufficient time," it said.
Its previous 2016 rules did not impose a similar requirement.
The new requirement however will not be imposed on sitting Supreme Court associate justices who may apply for the Chief Justice post, regardless of the number of years left in service.
"With respect to the CJ position, a sitting AJ of the SC is not contemplated in Section 1 of Rule 8. Note that Section 1.a thereof covers only an AJ or PJ of an appellate court - CA, CTA and Sandiganbayan," JBC member retired Justice Jose Mendoza told reporters in a message.
Mendoza was referring to the provision requiring 2.5 years of service left as a requirement for those who have assumed certain positions.
SC spokesperson Brian Keith Hosaka confirmed Mendoza's position, pointing out that SC justices are not included in the list of those who must meet this requirement.
"I believe the statement of Justice Mendoza is also founded on the rule in statutory construction of 'expressio unius est exclusio alterius' or express mention is implied exclusion," he said.
The past 2 chief justices - retired Chief Justice Teresita Leonardo-De Castro and Lucas Bersamin -- served for less than 2 months and 11 months respectively, while current Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta had 2 years and 5 months left in office when he was appointed by President Rodrigo Duterte.
With the clarification from the JBC, SC justices such as Senior Associate Justice Estela Perlas-Bernabe, now 68, and Associate Justice Edgardo de los Santos, 67, who will be close to retirement when CJ Peralta retires in March 2022, will still have the chance to vie for the top magistrate post.
Bernabe is set to retire in May 2022 or 2 months after Peralta while Delos Santos will turn 70 in June 2022.
AJ Rosmari Carandang, 68, meanwhile will retire ahead of Peralta in January 2022.
Reacting to the new requirement, Senator Sonny Angara on Twitter asked if it is in line with the Constitution.
"Is that constitutional? Can they add to what the Constitution's qualifications?," he asked, referring a previous Supreme Court decision which struck down a mandatory drug testing requirement for those seeking an elective or appointed government post, whether local or national.
In 2008, the Supreme Court voided a provision in the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act (RA 9165) because it imposed a qualification for candidates for senators in additional to what was already provided in the 1987 Constitution.
With respect to SC justices, the Constitution only requires that they be natural-born citizens, at least 40 years old and must have been a judge of a lower court or engaged in private practice of law for 15 years of more.
They must also be of proven competence, integrity, probity and independence.
The Revised Rules, which take effect June 8, were signed by Chief Justice Peralta, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, Sen. Richard Gordon and House Rep. Vicente Veloso III, as ex officio chair and members of the JBC, respectively.
Regular JBC members also signed, namely: ret. Justices Mendoza and Noel Tijam, Judge Toribio Ilao, Jr. and Atty. Franklin Demonteverde.
JBC also introduced the following changes:
The number of JBC nominees submitted to Malacanang will be limited to 7 but must not be less than 3, with each nominee receiving votes from at least 4 JBC members.
JBC imposed 2 new grounds for disqualification -- those found by JBC to have committed transgressions affecting their integrity and those found to have solicited votes from JBC members or officers. This is in addition to existing grounds: having pending criminal and administrative cases as well as making false statements or misrepresentations or concealments in their personal data sheet and other documents.
There is also now an express prohibition for JBC regular members from applying for any position where JBC may be involved in the selection process while they are incumbent members of the JBC and within 1 year from their retirement or resignation, due to conflict of interest.