Chief Justice must be most senior, says ex-Law professor


Renato Corona was unseated by the Senate impeachment court on May 22. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

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.

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  • zahraff

    As long as the criteria for being a chief justice is met, there should no imposing barrier to be one. The Filipino people needs the next chief justice to having no baggage at all. Seniority has never been a must, but we need a chief justice that is having no rumors of fixing a case/cases of bending laws. An applicant having complied with the requirements to become a chief justice, must have “INTEGRITY ” as the number priority. As the saying goes, if there is smoke, there is fire!

    • Alajero

      …de lima or henares…no baggage…?
      …theirs is quite heavy…they need to support AQUINO’s based on whatever he says in the media…irregardless of evidence (or lack of it)…

  • lptee

    i concur with atty lotilla!

  • FClive

    Should be seniority by experience who WILL contribute to improve the very poor judicial system of this god forsaken country. Not seniority by age!

  • Hannah

    It is not fair to exclude Justice Carpio just because he is next in line…. He is the most qualified and has displayed utmost delikadesa..

    • JuanTamadachi

      I agree.. All other things being equal, I am for seniority..

  • Joseph

    As usual politics always play in the mind of a president who to appoint as CJ and associate justices of the Supreme Court. A president appoints someone who toes the line to whatever he/she wishes. I believe the most senior Justice should succeed the vacant post of CJ.

  • reynaldo

    The opposite should be done by PNoy to re-engineer the Supreme Court!! Ikaw talaga Raffy!!!

  • Jon

    Kahanga-hanga kayo Atty. Lotilla.
    Sa pag-tanggi sa nominsayon, itinaguyod ninyo ang prinsipyo at integridad na hindi na sinusundan ng mga kasalukuyang mga personalidad.
    Bukod tangi kayo sa karamihan ng mga kandidato na hahamakin ang lahat upang makamit lang ang posisyong hinahangad nila.
    Tulad ng pagtetestigo laban kay Corona kasi pala interesado silang angkinin ang posisyon niya.
    Nasaan ang delikadeza at kahihiyaan nila?

  • NegaStarr

    Headline is misleading!!!

    Lotilla statement: “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.

    Inquirer headline: “Chief Justice MUST be most senior, says ex-Law professor”

    • pilipino_ako6

      This is not uncommon, not only in this newspaper. Sad but true. this happens when newspapers are more caught up in sensationalisation

  • rosamistika16

    a chief justice must be a person with integrity, probity, competence and above all WISDOM! sometimes wisdom resides in a man with age so i think the most senior justice is appropriate.

  • renato

    mag presidente muna kayo bago kayo gumawa ng pagbabago sa pagpili. hehehehe

  • Ella Del Rosario

    this makes sense to me

  • deep

    Qualification, not seniority should be the basis it should only be one of the advantage but not a divine right. CJ John Roberts was way too young compared to those sitting justices, yet he was appointed to the post of US Supreme Court CJ.

    The military has learned its lessons that selections for Service Commanders on the basis of seniority ALONE, creates an atmosphere of incompetence and a sense of divine right to those in line.

  • nikko_mahor


  • bosesprobinsyano

    The present set up of the Supreme Court is not ideal. The influence of fraternity, politics, business, etc., and there is a built-in system which is not proper for the supreme arbiter of what the law is, the final judge of what is just and fair. If the present culture and system within, are good models of best practices, then the most senior one needs to be appointed to maintain such order . But, we see a different culture , we see a “mafia’, a cartel , a system or culture, that MUST be change, and certainly, it needs somebody outside to change it. Those who are in the inside are a product of a patronage system , and there are already a lot of questionable system inside . Appointing one within , is not for change and reform. And if the most senior will have its right to be appointed- that makes the appointing authority a mere CONFIRMING authority , without latitude to appoint somebody , and TE PRESIDENT OWES TO THE SOVEREIGN people to appoint the best- not based only on seniority.

  • bosesprobinsyano

    May all applicants submit a sort of ACTION PLAN, what they will do to expedite justice, to make other courts under them, down to the municipal court , really functional? How to make a really credible and stable supreme court ? At present , due to the “flip-flopping”, where cases similarly situated are not decided similarly, the public are left subject to the tripping of the judge . The judge can use a NO OR YES, BLACK OR WHITE , yellow or red, and can cite a Supreme Court ruling to support his decision . And there is no proper system now. Speedy trial and other laws are not followed . Government agencies and legal offices, judges and prosecutors, have conflicting opinions , order and resolutions, depending on who is asking it, because there are basis to support. Were in a mess?

  • kilabot

    seniority system is not a guarantee to insulate the sc from patronage system. if the tradition is followed, carpio will be the beneficiary and everybody knows he is the epitome of patronage system. ask sereno or noykapon and you will know why.

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