MANILA – Fighting back tears, his voice breaking, Supreme Court Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta on Wednesday laid out all his cards before the Judicial and Bar Council in his bid to become the next Chief Justice.
“I think I deserve to be Chief Justice because I worked very hard all these years,” he told a 4-member panel towards the end of his public interview.
Peralta is the most senior among 4 applicants to the post, having been appointed to the Supreme Court in January 2009.
Fellow applicant Associate Justice Estela Perlas-Bernabe was appointed in September 2011, Associate Justice Andres Reyes Jr. in July 2017, and Associate Justice Jose Reyes, Jr. in August 2018.
The JBC held the interviews as it began its search for the magistrate to replace Chief Justice Lucas Bersamin, who will retire on Oct. 18.
Peralta told the JBC the other applicants are also qualified but what sets him apart is his dedication to the job.
“I’m not a topnotcher, I'm not an honor student, because that's what they say, hindi naman daw ako topnotcher, hindi naman ako honor (I'm not a topnotcher, I'm not an honor graduate)... but I think I was able to compensate with the work that I had done as a public prosecutor, as a judge, as an associate justice of the Sandiganbayan, as a presiding justice, associate justice of the Supreme Court, as a lecturer, and the chairman of several committees and member of several committees,” he said.
“I think they are more than enough to compensate with what they say that I do not deserve because I'm not a topnotcher or I'm not an honor student. I hope you have to take those into consideration that there is hope for an individual like me,” he added, capping off more than an hour and a half of questions and answers.
Peralta apologized for being emotional, insisting that he is not arrogant. He was asked several times during his interview on perceptions about his demeanor.
“Sorry, medyo (a little) emotional, that's me, Your Honor, hindi ako (I'm not) arrogant. That's me. I’m not arrogant, masamang pakinggan (it sounds bad),” he said.
Earlier, he laughed off the allegation, saying he was probably “the most approachable justice in the SC,” cracking jokes to lighten up debates.
“Sobrang bait ko nga e. Dami ko napapautang di nababayaran (I am very kind. I have lent money to many that I don't get back). [Whenever] I come from abroad, maraming pasalubong (I bring home a lot of treats I give away),” he said.
Peralta said his passion for his job may have been mistaken for arrogance, claiming he usually tells anyone asking for an illegal favor not to talk to him.
His focus on his job, he shared, was the reason he married late. At 67 years old, his youngest child is only 16.
“I thought I would not get married anymore. I was married to my job,” he said.
He is married to Court of Appeals Associate Justice Fernanda Lampas Peralta.
A graduate of the University of Santo Tomas Faculty of Civil Law, Peralta worked in the private sector before he joined the government as an assistant city prosecutor.
In 1994, he was appointed regional trial court judge in Quezon City before being named Sandiganbayan associate justice in 2002 by then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
He later became Sandiganbayan Presiding Justice before joining the SC in 2009, also as an Arroyo appointee.
DECISIONS AND VOTING RECORD
Among the decisions he penned while in the high court are the November 2016 ruling upholding the legality of the burial of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani, the August 2017 decision allowing plea bargain in small-time drug cases, the September 2018 decision requiring mandatory compliance with chain of custody requirements in drug cases, and the June 2019 ruling granting retroactive application of RA 10592 or the expanded good conduct time allowance law.
He also voted to uphold the legality of Sen. Leila De Lima’s arrest on non-bailable drug charges, the declaration of martial law and its extensions, and the closure of Boracay Island.
He was also in favor of the ouster of former Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno and was among the justices who testified against Sereno during the House of Representatives probe on the impeachment complaint against her.
Peralta was asked about his September 2018 ruling in People v. Lim which, according to an October 2018 letter from the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency to the Supreme Court has led to an “alarming increase in the number of dismissals or acquittals” in drug-related cases due to the failure of authorities to comply with chain of custody requirements.
The ruling required police officers to state in their affidavits compliance with requirements under the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 for witnesses from the barangay and the media or a representative from the Department of Justice to attest that they were present during the raid and that a physical inventory was conducted after.
Without such compliance, police were required to provide justifications in their affidavits.
Peralta blamed judges for using the decision to acquit the accused in drugs cases saying the judge should, in the first place, check the requirements in evaluating probable cause. That way, they could dismiss the case without prejudice to refiling.
“I wanted to protect cases of prosecution. From hereon, para di magkamali mga pulis, i-indicate na sa affidavit of arrest ‘yung requirements (so police officers won't make mistakes, they should indicate the requirements in the affidavit of arrest),” he said.
He also defended the decision to allow plea bargaining in small-time drug cases, saying this is the general rule in other countries and is meant to address court delay.
Unlike the good conduct time allowance rule which the SC allowed to apply retroactively, the plea bargain rule applies only prospectively because, Peralta said, it is only a procedural rule.
PLANS FOR SC
Asked about his plans for the high court should he be chosen as the top magistrate, Peralta said he intends to address the backlog of cases, continue revisions to the Rules of Court, train justices and monitor performance of judges.
Amid the rising number of lawyers, prosecutors and judges being killed in the country since 2016, he said he would support a bill establishing a marshal system under the control of the Supreme Court.
To address the lack of court personnel, he said he would push for a bill exempting the judiciary from the salary standardization law.
Peralta’s application for the Chief Justice post is his third.
Asked what makes him more qualified now, he said:
“For all these years, I always practice this principle: I live by example. I have the qualities of a good leader. I think I’m better to be Chief Justice now if given the chance.”