Next CJ could be De Castro, Peralta or Bersamin; impeach raps nonfactor
Supreme Court Associate Justices Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, Diosdado Peralta and Lucas Bersamin have made it to the Judicial and Bar Council’s (JBC) short list of nominees for Chief Justice, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra told reporters on Friday.
The JBC did not consider the impeachment complaints filed on Thursday against the three justices by several House opposition lawmakers, Guevarra said.
“Mere filing of the impeachment complaint [was] not enough to disqualify [them]. It is not yet considered an impeachment case until it is affirmatively acted upon by the appropriate House committee,” he said.
But for Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, the JBC acted with “indecent alacrity” in proceeding to vote for the short list and should reopen the application for the Chief Justice post.
To say that the impeachment complaints have not yet matured to a pending case was “flawed because upon the filing of the complaints and before they are dismissed, the complaints are deemed pending just like unresolved criminal and administrative cases,” the Bicolano congressman said on Friday.
Lagman, Akbayan Rep. Tom Villarin, Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano and Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat filed separate impeachment complaints on Thursday against De Castro, Peralta, Bersamin and four other justices who voted in May to oust then Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno through a quo warranto suit.
Retiring in Duterte term
De Castro, Peralta and Bersamin—who were all appointed by then President and now Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo—are the high court’s second, third and fourth most senior associate justices, respectively.
All three will reach the mandatory retirement age of 70 within President Duterte’s term: De Castro in October this year, Bersamin in October next year and Peralta in March 2022.
Another candidate for top magistrate, Supreme Court Associate Justice Andres Reyes Jr., failed to get the required minimum vote of four.
Judge Virginia Tejano-Ang of Tagum City Regional Trial Court (RTC) was disqualified “because of an adverse finding and recommendation in her administrative case,” Guevarra said without giving details.
He said JBC members also took into consideration the “unwritten rule” that a judge should not apply for a position two levels higher than his or her current post.
For example, one cannot move up from being municipal trial court judge to Court of Appeals judge or from RTC judge to Chief Justice.
Palace sees ‘no merit’
The JBC, a constitutional body mandated to screen and vet nominees for vacant posts in the judiciary, is composed of Supreme Court acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio as ex officio chair; Sen. Richard Gordon, Oriental Mindoro Rep. Doy Leachon and Guevarra as ex officio members; and retired Supreme Court Justice Jose Catral-Mendoza, retired Judge Toribio Ilao, and lawyers Jose Mejia and Milagros Fernan-Cayosa as regular members.
Meanwhile, Malacañang expressed confidence that the impeachment case against seven of the eight Supreme Court justices who voted for Sereno’s ouster would be junked for having “no merit.”
“After all, whether it be in form or substance, we have seen that the [quo warranto] decision was within the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court,” said presidential spokesperson Harry Roque, citing the 1987 Constitution.
Aside from De Castro, Peralta, Bersamin and Reyes, also named in the impeachment complaints were Associate Justices Francis Jardeleza, Noel Tijam and Alexander Gesmundo.
The Supreme Court has reorganized its three divisions while awaiting the appointment of a new Chief Justice and also in light of the appointment of a new justice, Jose Reyes Jr., and the vacancy caused by Justice Samuel Martires’ appointment as Ombudsman.
For the First Division, headed by the Chief Justice, Peralta was designated acting chair, with Mariano del Castillo, Jardeleza and Tijam as regular members, and Gesmundo as acting member.
For the Second Division, Carpio remains chair with Estela Perlas-Bernabe, Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa and Andres Reyes Jr. as regular members, and Jose Reyes as acting member.
For the Third Division, De Castro was named chair with Justice Marvic Leonen, Bersamin and Gesmundo as regular members, and Andres Reyes Jr. as acting member. —WITH A REPORT FROM DJ YAP
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