It was never sufficient to explain Maria Lourdes Sereno’s perplexing appointment as chief justice of the Supreme Court as just a case of former President Benigno Aquino 3rd selecting her from a short list supplied by the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC).
That is even more insufficient and perplexing now that witnesses and records have unveiled the fact that CJ Sereno did not fulfill some essential requirements set by the JBC for chief justice applicants, namely: (1) the submission of all statements of liabilities and net worth (SALNs) during the applicant’s government service; and (2) successful passing of psychological testing by experts to determine the fitness of applicants for the job.
It has come to light that many of Sereno’s SALNs were never completely submitted, particularly those pertaining to her years of service as a professor at the University of the Philippines.
It also came to light that Sereno flunked the psychological testing and received a failing mark when compared with ratings of the other applicants.
The question that troubles the media and the public the most is why, given the substantive deficiencies of Sereno’s submissions to the JBC, the council saw it fit to place her name in the short list of chief justice nominees submitted to President Aquino in 2012?
Why did the JBC bypass its own rules and requirements for the screening of applicants for high positions in the judiciary?
These questions go to the heart of the council’s responsibility and duty to ensure the high quality and character of all individuals it names for consideration for appointment to the judiciary.
The constitutional provisions pertaining to the role of the JBC are spelled in two sections of the Article on the judicial Department in the Constitution.
The provisions read:
Article VIII Sec. 8 “(1) A Judicial and Bar Council is hereby created under the supervision of the Supreme Court, composed of the Chief Justice as ex-officio Chairman, the Secretary of Justice, and a representative of the Congress as ex-officio Members, a representative of the Integrated Bar, a professor of law, a retired Member of the Supreme Court, and a representative of the private sector.”
Article VIII, Sec. 8 “(5) The Council shall have the principal function of recommending appointees to the Judiciary. It may exercise such other functions and duties as the Supreme Court may assign to it.”
The role of the JBC in recommending appointments to the judiciary is principal. No other agency or office of government is assigned this responsibility.
Based on the record and the current controversy over Sereno’s qualifications for the position of chief justice, it is apparent that the JBC has not fulfilled the mandate envisioned for it by the 1987 Constitution.
There is reason to suspect that the JBC bent the rules and requirements at the time when Maria Lourdes Sereno was first considered for nomination as a member of the Supreme Court. She did not submit all her SALNs, and she did not have the requisite experience on the bench.
The council bent the rules and requirements in a bigger way when it prepared its short list for the replacement of impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona. It decided to include Sereno’s name in the shortlist despite her many shortcomings.
It gets worse. In 2012, the year of Sereno’s appointment, it has been reported by one media organization that former President Benigno Aquino 3rd expressed dissatisfaction with the chief justice shortlist submitted to him by the JBC. Was this because Sereno was not in the list? Did he then request that her name be included in the list?
The matter was evidently resled behind closed doors. As if from out of the blue, it was subsequently announced that Aquino had chosen Associate Justice Sereno as the new chief justice.
The circumstances of the Sereno appointment leads many to wonder validly whether President Aquino personally asked for Sereno to be included in the list, so that he could then appoint his classmate as the first female chief justice and the youngest chief justice of the Supreme court.
It is overdue for the JBC to disclose the facts of this matter. They owe this to the nation. Otherwise, the nation should consider the suspension of this JBC provision of the 1987 Constitution, which blindly threw away the time-honored process of screening prospective chief justices of the Supreme Court.