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Insider needed for wounded Supreme Court—Justice Abad

Associate Justice Roberto Abad. Photo from http://sc.judiciary.gov.ph

A wounded Supreme Court may need one of its own—not an outsider—to lead in the healing process.

Associate Justice Roberto Abad told the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) on Wednesday that the ouster of Chief Justice Renato Corona had damaged the high tribunal.

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“We have a wounded court after the impeachment trial,” the 68-year-old Abad said on the second day of the nationally televised hearing to choose Corona’s successor.

One of the senior justices of the Supreme Court, Abad said that if he were chosen Chief Justice, he would begin the process of reconciliation.

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“You cannot have healing without forgiveness,” he said under questioning by Representative Niel Tupas, the much-criticized head of the House prosecution team.

Tupas said he thought the impeachment was a healthy exercise because it allowed the prosecution team to elicit evidence against Corona during his trial, referring to the statement of assets, liabilities and net worth that a senator-judge, Franklin Drilon, drew from a Supreme Court witness.

Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said Abad’s statement was a “sales pitch from an insider,” dousing speculation that a senior justice at the helm of the high tribunal over the short term could defuse the debilitating fallout from the ouster of Corona.

“Are we prepared to accept the premise that it is a wounded court? From the point of view of the executive branch, I think we reformed (the Supreme Court). It is the first step in judicial reform. So, we don’t necessarily follow that it is a wounded court. In fact, it’s part of our advocacy for reform,” Lacierda said.

Also interviewed Wednesday were Associate Justice Arturo D. Brion, Election Commissioner Rene Sarmiento, veteran lawyer Rafael Morales, former University of the Philippines law dean Raul Pangalangan and retired Bulacan Judge Manuel Siayngco.

2 disqualified

The JBC announced Wednesday that it had disqualified former Immigration Commissioner Rufus Rodriguez and private lawyer Vicente Velasquez as nominees for their failure to comply with documentary requirements, cutting the number of nominees to 20.

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Six nominees, including Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, were interviewed on Tuesday, leaving eight more to undergo questioning. The council is expected to recommend a short list of three candidates from which the President will chose the country’s 24th Chief Justice.

Abad said that while he was appointed by then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to the high court, he said he had voted against her, pointing out that he was among the minority who upheld President Benigno Aquino’s executive order creating the Philippine Truth Commission. The order was declared unconstitutional.

He also said he joined the Masses expressing support for Corona during his impeachment trial and that he visited him when he was hospitalized after his testimony in the Senate in May for hypoglycemia, a dizziness spell symptomatic of a diabetic. “I’m a person who does not discard a friend when he is in trouble,” he said.

Abad dismissed Tupas’ suggestions that the Supreme Court under Corona was bedeviled by factionalism. “Even when the Chief Justice takes a position, he loses a lot of cases,” he averred.

Graft and corruption

Brion, 65, acknowledged that the Supreme Court was hobbled by perceptions of graft and corruption and inefficiency.

Corruption is not only purely a judiciary problem but a societal problem, he said. “There are a lot of very ‘clean’ ones in the judiciary,” he said, adding that the problem of corruption must be addressed by the three branches of government working together.

Brion admitted that the backlog of cases, some pending for as long as 10 years, was a “serious problem” that contributed to the erosion of public trust in the judiciary.

“Our old cases are frightening. You’ll get an asthma attack just by opening (the files),” he said.

Morales and Pangalangan told the JBC that their experience made them capable of being at the helm of the high tribunal.

With 37 years in legal practice and 15 years as law professor, Morales  said he was “willing, ready and able to go to public service.”

Morales, 61, said that if he were appointed Chief Justice, his priorities would be to fill up vacancies in the judiciary which he described as “undermanned,” raise salaries to attract more people and work for the increase of the budgetary allocation of the judiciary.

“I will approach each of the justices and appeal to their sense of patriotism and extend their cooperation to me in the interest of the country and the judicial system.”

Changes since ouster

Pangalangan, 53, noted changes in the judiciary since Corona’s ouster.

“Just to show the effect of the impeachment trial: Had it not been for that event, no outsider will be even sitting before the JBC to be considered for this office. No outsider would have the nerve to accept the nomination because it’s too much of a burden … but because of those events, here we are,” he said.

Sarmiento shrugged off allegations that he was involved in cheating in the 2007 senatorial elections in Mindanao, saying he had been cleared by Commission on Elections Chairman Sixto Brillantes and the justice secretary.

Asked why he was vying for the Chief Justice position, he said this would be a “big chance to serve the country,” adding that the job called for not only “a visionary but a leader and CEO, an all-out and all-seasoned public servant.”

Sarmiento said he had practiced law for the past 26 years, handling criminal, civil and labor cases.

On his independence, he said he had given dissenting opinions on six to seven cases, including one involving Juan Miguel “Mikey” Arroyo, a son of former President Arroyo, as head of the party-list group Ang Galing Pinoy. He said he did not believe Mikey was a representative of security guards in the country.

“I stopped dreaming of a  promotion in the Court of Appeals and Sandiganbayan after six attempts,” Siayngco told the council. He said contending for the post of chief magistrate would be a chance for him to show “moral integrity, probity, independence.” He said the chief magistrate “should also have a heart that bleeds for the miseries of the people.”

“I do believe that I have that from my experience as a lower court judge,” Siayngco said.

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TAGS: Benigno Aquino, chief justice, Corona Impeachment, Government, JBC, Judiciary, Leila de Lima, Politics, Roberto Abad, Supreme Court
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