THE centrality of the Supreme Court in so many burning issues of national life today and the experience of the court in recent history highlight the importance of judicious and discerning selection of every new member of the court.
Part of that history is the shocking impeachment of a sitting chief justice of the high court, whose removal was ordered and orchestrated by President Benigno BS. Aquino 3rd, almost immediately upon being sworn in as president of the republic on June 30, 2010.
Also part was the spectacle of the court‘s ruling that Aquino‘s multi –billion-peso Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) was illegal and unconstitutional, followed by the President’s effort to reverse the decision by whatever means he could avail of.
We address today the subject of justice selection because there is a minor controversy developing at the SC concerning the selection of a new justice to replace a member who recently retired.
The situation has developed because Associate Justice Martin Villarama, Jr. took early retirement last January 16 for health reasons, and the process has begun for the selection and naming of a magistrate to replace him.
According to time-honored practice, it is the business and responsibility of the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) to find a suitable replacement from the bench and bar, and then the President has the authority to select the new justice from a short list of nominees who have been vetted by the JBC. (On this vetting, however, we believe that the JBC should be more rigorous. Some of the nominees that it has allowed to be on its list should not be because, for instance, they have been reprimanded by the High Court for certain questionable actions or decisions. One such nominee is CA Associate Justice Rosmari D. Carandang.)
There would be no questions about the process of selecting Villarama’s replacement if the rules and procedures of the JBC were being strictly followed. But that unfortunately is not what is happening.
As reported by the Times, there is some grumbling in the high court that Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, who is also JBC chairman, is circumventing the rules and curtailing the voting powers and recommendations of sitting justices in the selection of a new member of the court.
Justices are complaining that CJ Sereno has disregarded the Internal Rules of the JBC and a long-time existing tradition on the power of the SC justices to vote and make their own recommendation prior to voting by the JBC on the vacancy.
In this regard, we are impelled to state that the selection of a new justice should be above suspicion and beyond reproach.
The process should be shielded from politics and the other branches of government. President Aquino has long desired to have a high court that would completely defer to his wishes.
What is unconscionable is the spectacle of CJ Sereno volunteering to twist the selection process in order to assist the president in getting his way.
We agree with those justices who believe that the selection process is being manipulated to favor certain nominees on the short list.
CJ Sereno should bear in mind that President Aquino already has five appointees in the High Court, of which she is one.
In just a few more months, the people will vote into office a new president, who will be installed on June 30 this year.
The fact that the nation will vote into office a new president, a new Congress, and a new set of local government officials, should inspire the high court to treat the selection of a new member with utmost prudence and probity.
The Sereno court, young as it is, has made historic and important decisions in the recent past. It should not blemish the history with a less than honorable process in naming a new member of the court.