The Supreme Court (SC) has affirmed the authority of the Judicial and Bar Council to set its own standards in choosing nominees for vacant positions in the judiciary.
The JBC is mandated by the Constitution to recommend to the President a list of nominees for such vacancies, including SC justices, municipal trial court judges and the Ombudsman and his or her deputies.
In a full-court ruling promulgated on April 7, 2015 and penned by Associate Justice Bienvenido Reyes, which was released last week, the High Tribunal dismissed a petition of Presiding Judge Ferdinand Villanueva of Municipal Circuit Trial Court in Compostela-New Bataan, Compostela Valley province, against the council.
Villanueva challenged the constitutionality of the JBC’s policy that requires of judges five years of service in first-level courts before they can qualify as applicants to second-level courts or the Regional Trial Courts (RTCs).
It was the second time that the authority of the council was questioned after former Consitutional Commission delegate Dean Rodolfo Robles disputed the five-year policy of the JBC in accepting outsider applicants.
It was the policy of the JBC then that outsider applicants should be less than 65 years of age.
Robles said this policy was unconstitutional since it is not enshrined in the 1987 Constitution.
He won his case and the council relaxed its own rules.
Villanueva was appointed as Presiding Judge of the MCTC in Compostela Valley on September 18, 2012 and applied for vacant Presiding Judge positions in the RTCs of Tagum City, Davao City and Agusan Del Sur on September 27, 2013.
The JBC, however, did not include him in the list of nominees because he has been a judge for only more than a year.
In his petition, Villanueva argued that his exclusion violated constitutional provisions on equal protection, due process and social and human rights for equal opportunity and employment.
He asserted that the Constitution had prescribed the qualifications of an RTC judge and since he was able to comply with the requirement of 10 years of practice of law, his application should have been considered by the council.
But the High Court affirmed the authority of the JBC to formulate its own policies in the performance of its constitutional mandate.
“The Constitution did not lay down in precise terms the process that the JBC shall follow in determining applicants’ qualifications. In carrying out its main function, the JBC has the authority to set standards/criteria in choosing its nominees for every vacancy in the judiciary, subject only to the minimum qualifications required by the Constitution and law for every position,” the court ruling stated.
The High Tribunal believed that the five-year requirement policy of the council is necessary to ensure that applicants possess the qualities expected of them in the position they are applying for.
“The JBC does not discriminate when it employs number of years of service to screen and differentiate applicants from the competition. The number of years of service provides a relevant basis to determine proven competence, which may be measured by experience, among other factors,” the SC explained.
It said the policy is valid and constitutional, since the five-year requirement is based on reasonable classification.
Meanwhile, the High Court directed the council to publish its assailed policy as well as other special guidelines that it is or will be implementing.
According to the decision, the five-year requirement policy is not an internal regulation and does not fall under administrative rules and regulations that are exempted from the publication requirement.
Eleven justices voted for the dismissal of the Villanueva petition.
Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, who acts the as JBC’s ex officio chairman, did not participate in the voting.
Associate Justice Francis Jardeleza inhibited, while Associate Justices Martin Villarama and Estela Perlas-Bernabe were on leave during the voting.