MANILA, Philippines—Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio may preside over the Supreme Court but he will have to inhibit himself from the Judicial and Bar Council’s deliberations in the selection of a replacement for Renato Corona, who has been removed, Sen. Francis Escudero said Thursday.
Escudero, the Senate’s representative on the JBC, had long expected Carpio, “being the most senior associate justice” of the Supreme Court, to assume the position of head of the judiciary after Corona’s removal by the Senate sitting in judgment of the impeached Corona.
Carpio automatically became acting chief justice and JBC chair based on “Supreme Court internal rules and by tradition, so nobody can question it,” said the senator, a lawyer.
“The President has nothing to do with this (Carpio’s move)—let’s make this clear,” said Escudero, explaining that the chief justice has other administrative tasks to perform, such as payment of salaries of court employees and regular fund disbursements.
As acting chief justice, Carpio will preside over the JBC deliberations, Escudero said, adding, “If he becomes a nominee, or he applies, he will have to inhibit, of course.”
The JBC is a constitutional body created by the 1987 Constitution to screen and recommend to the President nominees for vacancies in the judiciary, from trial court judges to justices of the high court.
According to Escudero, the JBC has set a meeting on Monday to approve the publication of the vacancy in the Office of the Chief Justice.
The JBC and President Benigno Aquino III have 90 days to fill the vacancy arising from the removal of Corona on Tuesday for culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust.
“It would take one and half months (to complete the process), or approximately by July 15. So the President will have one and a half months to choose from the list,” said Escudero.
But the JBC secretariat expects that a shortlist of nominees will be on the President’s desk on or before July 15, allowing Aquino to appoint Corona’s replacement before his annual State of the Nation Address on July 23.
Under Section 4, Article 8 of the Constitution, vacancies in the judiciary should be filled within 90 days, “or 90 days from Tuesday in the case of Corona,” said Escudero.
The JBC is composed of four ex-oficio officers (the chief justice, the secretary of justice, and two members from the Senate and House of Representatives, usually the chairpersons of their respective committees on justice), and four regular members representing the retired Supreme Court members, academe, Integrated Bar of the Philippines, and the private sector.
At the meeting next Monday, Escudero will propose to the JBC another important reform at the JBC in the aftermath of the ouster of Corona from the high court.
“I will ask for the adoption of another requirement—for applicants to submit their statement of assets, liabilities and net worth,” said Escudero, pointing out that even applicants coming from private sector should fill out a SALN.
“All applicants and nominees should execute a waiver of secrecy of bank deposits in favor of the JBC. They should submit their maintaining balances (for bank deposits) which should be checked against the SALN,” he said.
Corona, during his second appearance at the Senate impeachment court last week, issued a belated but unconditional waiver for all his bank accounts, whether in peso or dollar.
“We removed a sitting chief justice because of the inaccuracies in his SALNs versus his real bank deposits, so you don’t expect the JBC to nominate to P-Noy (President Aquino) someone whose SALN does not jive with his or her real wealth,” said Escudero.
The senator pointed to the imperativeness of learning from the impeachment case of Corona.
“I will not support whoever does not executive a waiver. My position is that person should be disqualified. At the very least, I will not vote for that person,” said Escudero.
He added: “Signing a waiver is logical so that the JBC can check your bank deposits. If you don’t want to sign a waiver, then don’t enter the government. We now have to follow a higher standard we applied on Corona,” said Escudero.