(Article published in the Nov 20, 2008 issue of Manila Standard Today)
Last Monday, at 10:00 o’clock in the morning of 17 November 2008, at the Training Center of the Centennial Building of the Supreme Court, a group of convenors representing various sectors of society launched a project named “Bantay Korte Suprema.”
The aim is, according to the official statement, “to ensure that the nomination, evaluation, recommendation and appointment [by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo] of the seven incoming Supreme Court justices [in replacement of the 7 high court justices expected to retire next year] be transparent and public, not duly influenced by parochial and short-term political considerations.”
Highlighting the launch was the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding On the Public Monitoring of the Selection of Justices to the Supreme Court (2008-2009). The MoU listed the group’s objectives in great detail and was signed by people from the media, the legal academic community, organized groups of legal practitioners and the business community. A couple of retired justices of the Supreme Court, who were the group’s consultants, signed as witnesses to the expression of agreement.
Each group was assigned a
specific task: the media was to assist in information dissemination; the
academic community, in research and public education; the legal
practitioners, in soliciting and hopefully also providing contributions of
financial, material or human resources; the business community, in giving
advice on its assessment of the candidates’ economic and business knowledge
as well as, their enterprises’ health permitting, reasonable financial,
material or human resources to the sustain the group’s various projects. The
retired justices were to lend counsel and serve as channels of communication
to the relevant primary decision makers.
The specific objectives of the Project are long-term in nature, e.g., increasing public awareness and participation in ensuring the quality of justices to be appointed, amendments in the selection process used by the Judicial and Bar Council in making the short-list from which the President is to choose her appointees. Unfortunately, the Project, though in need of a long gestation period, does not have the luxury of time to create meaningful impact. The first of the 7 forthcoming vacancies in the Supreme Court will occur with the retirement of Justice Ruben T. Reyes on 03 January next year. Whether Bantay Korte Suprema would make a difference (for the better) in the filling up of that vacancy is the test that will try the group’s resolve and relevance.
With only a little more than 50 days from now to make the existence of their common endeavor felt, the convenors need, in my view, to directly focus on the members of the Judicial and Bar Council. The Council will be conducting its interview of the aspirants to Justice Reyes’ seat today (19 Nov) and tomorrow (20 Nov). Suggesting that the members of the Council ask all the applicants some questions specifically designed to elicit their fundamental beliefs and values as well as attitudes and aptitudes, would, I think, be a good start. Such a well-defined activity is in line with the Project’s objective of precipitating some reform in the selection process currently followed by the Judicial and Bar Council.
Among the questions I wish a member of the Judicial and Bar Council would ask is how the aspirants, had they been then sitting as justices of the highest court of the land, would have ruled on certain legal issues that had cropped up in recent cases of national significance. For example, how would each of the aspirants reconcile the Filipino first policy in the Constitution with the obvious need to encourage foreign investments to come in, assuring them of non-discriminatory practices, so that the people for whom the Constitution was written is benefitted? Specifically, how would each of them have decided the Manila Hotel Case, Manila Prince Hotel v. GSIS, et al., G.R. No. 122156, Feb. 3, 1997? And, which of the positions of the Supreme Court on the constitutionality of the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 (R.A. 7942) as articulated in the case of La Bugal-B’laan v. Ramos G.R. No. 127882 do the applicants agree with? In the first decision handed down on January 27, 2004, the Court ruled that it was void; in the second, issued on December 1 of the same year, the Court reversed its January decision. Which position would each have taken?
Executive privilege was an issue that came to the fore in the cases of Neri v. Senate Committee on Accountability of Public Officers and Investigations, G.R. No.180643, Sept 4, 2008 and Senate v. Ermita, G.R. No. 169777, April 20, 2006. Where would each of the aspirants have drawn the line between the constitutional right of the people to know and the presidential prerogatives granted in the constitution?
Another current topic of debate among legal scholars is the question of when an issue that is raised in a case ought to be not ruled on for having become moot and academic. Specifically, how would each of the aspirants have ruled on the continuing justiceability of the issue raised in the Province of North Cotabato v. Republic, G.R. Nos. 183591, 183572, 183893, 183951, Oct 14, 2008, where the Court ruled on the merits despite manifestation by the Government that the Memorandum on Ancestral Domain would not be signed as it stood as initialed by government negotiators? How about the aspirants’ view of the mootness issue in the case of NBN-ZTE project, i.e. Rolex Suplico v. NEDA, G.R. No. 178830, July 14, 2008 which was dismissed after the President declared that the Government has scrapped the project? Do they agree or disagree on how the Supreme Court handled the mootness issue in Randy David’s case against Mrs. Arroyo, in David et al v. Arroyo et al, G.R. No. 171396. May 3, 2006?
And while we are talking about those last mentioned cases, the substantive aspect of which was about the president’s power to declare a state of emergency, are the aspirants in accord with the ruling on the constitutionality of Presidential Proclamation No. 1017? What is the fundamental attitude of each of the applicants on the issue of human rights, and, specifically, on the right of privacy?
To elicit the aspirants’ concept of how members of the judiciary, from bottom to top, ought to behave themselves, I further would ask whether the candidates agree with how the Supreme Court handled the Sabio revelations when it disposed of the matter in In Re: Letter of P.J. Conrado V. Vasquez, Jr., AM No. 08-8-11-CA, September 9, 2008.
Finally, I would give each of the aspirants a sheet of bond paper and ask
him or her to write whether, if placed in the short list to be submitted by
the Judicial and Bar Council for the vacant position in the Supreme Court,
he or she would accept an invitation from Malacañang for a tete-a-tete, on
the weather or any other subject, while the President is making up her mind
on whom to appoint for the vacancy applied for. I am sure it would be
interesting to find out just how far from temptation the candidates would
want to position themselves to be like unto Calpurnia.