The 24th Chief Justice of the Supreme Court must be the most senior member of the tribunal in order to “insulate” the post from the “patronage system,” according to former Energy Secretary Raphael Lotilla.
Lotilla, a former professor at the University of the Philippines College of Law, made the remark as he turned down his nomination as a possible successor to Renato Corona, who was unseated by the Senate impeachment court on May 22.
Amid reports that President Benigno Aquino was considering an outsider to replace Corona, Lotilla underscored the importance of appointing a current magistrate of the 15-member court to head the high tribunal.
In a letter to Calixto Chikiamco, who nominated him to the Judicial and Bar Council which will screen the candidates, Lotilla said he believed the appointment of a Chief Justice based on seniority “is a tradition that minimizes the jockeying for appointment from within and outside of the court.”
He lamented in the letter released Sunday that the tradition of appointing the most senior justice to succeed a retiring Chief Justice had been ignored “without any legal compulsion behind it.”
In 2005, then President Gloria Mapacagal-Arroyo named Artemio Panganiban to replace Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr., bypassing Reynato Puno, then the most senior justice.
In another controversial decision in 2010, Arroyo named Corona as Puno’s successor despite questions over her authority to appoint public officials within the 60-day election period.
Antonio Carpio, currently the acting Chief Justice and the most senior magistrate, had then declined a nomination to the position. He said Arroyo’s naming of a Chief Justice was in violation of the constitutional prohibition on “midnight appointments.”
Lotilla also noted that Justice Jose B.L. Reyes had given way to Roberto Concepcion, then the most senior magistrate, as Chief Justice in 1966.
“Over the long term, particularly under future presidencies whose virtues we are unable to anticipate at this point, adherence to the principle of seniority may still be our best option,” Lotilla said.