New SC member happy to serve
He is ready to work with everyone, including the chief magistrate who had barred his nomination to the high court.
“I’ll work with everybody as part of my sworn duty,” said newly appointed Associate Justice Francis Jardeleza, who considers his recent appointment to the Supreme Court the culmination of his 39-year law career.
The former Solicitor General spent his two-week leave that started on Aug. 22 to wrap up affairs at his old office and to turn over the job to Acting Solicitor General Florin Hilbay, a former Senior State Solicitor and a law professor at the University of the Philippines for 14 years.
President Aquino named Jardeleza the 173rd Associate Justice of the high court on Aug. 19, the same day the court granted his petition to be included in the Judicial and Bar Council’s (JBC) short list.
Jardeleza was initially excluded from the list of candidates to the Supreme Court following the objection of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, the JBC chair, and Associate Justice Antonio Carpio over an integrity issue rooted in his handling of the Philippine arbitration case against China over the West Philippine Sea dispute.
He begged off addressing the issue, however. “Perhaps some other time,” he said.
“I’m very happy, of course,” said Jardeleza, who joins the high court’s Third Division chaired by Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr., with members Associate Justices Diosdado Peralta, Martin Villarama Jr. and Bienvenido Reyes.
His appointment completed the 15-seat high court and filled the vacancy left by Justice Roberto Abad when he retired in May.
Jardeleza, who turns 65 this month, is expected to serve on the Supreme Court until 2019.
“It is a good way to cap a career, to be given a chance [to become Associate Justice],” said this bar third placer, who began his private practice in 1975.
It’s a job “you prepare for… your whole life,” he said of his appointment. “It’s the life in the law. It will be different, but in a sense it will be the same, because it’s still law,” the magistrate added.
Sitting as justice would be the first time for Jardeleza to sit at the opposite side of the courtroom. For almost four decades, 35 years of them in private practice, he had served as counsel. He spent seven months at the Office of the Ombudsman, and two and a half years at the Office of the Solicitor General.
For a change
As counsel, he used to argue before the justices and was at the receiving end. “Now, I will be the one asking the questions, (although it’s still) the same: It’s the same Constitution that you read. You just change places,” the new associate justice said.
“As a judge, you decide. All my life I have been an advocate for one side. Now, you have two sides arguing before you and you decide, for a change,” said Jardeleza.
During his time as chief government counsel, Jardeleza represented the Aquino administration before the high court in major cases, among them the reproductive health law, the cybercrime law and, most recently, the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP).
Jardeleza will sit on the high court as it decides the government’s appeal on its DAP ruling. As Solicitor General, Jardeleza had sought a reversal of the high court’s July 1 ruling that struck down the program as unconstitutional.
There have been calls for Jardeleza to inhibit himself from cases he used to handle as SolGen, but he did not comment when asked how he would vote on such issues.
Couched in general terms
Despite Sereno’s stand, the high court on Aug. 19 ordered that Jardeleza be included in the short list. In its ruling, the full text of which was released only yesterday, the court said the integrity issue was “couched (in) general terms.”
The court did not divulge details, given the sensitivity of the issue, but earlier reports had indicated that it involved the Philippine arbitration case against China on the West Philippine Sea dispute.
The court said Sereno’s objection was based on a difference in legal strategy between Jardeleza and international lawyers in the case, a “normal, if not an essential form of interaction among members of the legal community.”
According to the ruling penned by Associate Justice Jose Mendoza,“…no connection was established linking (Jardeleza’s) choice of legal strategy to a treacherous intent to trounce… the country’s interests or to betray the Constitution… A lawyer has complete discretion on what legal strategy to employ in a case entrusted to him.”
In a separate opinion, Associate Justice Arturo Brion had sharp words against Sereno.
“I strongly believe… that CJ Sereno manipulated the JBC processes to exclude Jardeleza as a nominee. The manipulation was a purposive campaign to discredit and deal Jardeleza a mortal blow at the JBC level to remove him as a contender at the presidential level of the appointing process,” said Brion in his 36-page opinion.
He noted how Sereno’s actions threatened the balance of power between the coequal judiciary and executive branches.
“The court should not stand idly by when irregularities of this nature happen, particularly when the irregularity was committed by one of its own. The court should not likewise stay mute when a presidential power, granted under the Constitution that the court safeguards, is at risk of being diminished. The essence of the constitutional separation of powers and checks and balances—sacred in our democratic system of government—would be disturbed when untoward developments like these intervene,” said Brion.
He also described as “sickening” the JBC’s comment filed in the high court to oppose Jardeleza’s petition, saying the words it used against Jardeleza were “no less than daggers used in a character assassination.”
Sereno and Carpio did not take part in the Aug. 19 vote. President Aquino signed Jardeleza’s appointment papers on the same day of the favorable ruling. Jardeleza learned of his appointment the following day.
Asked about his relationship with Sereno, Jardeleza said it was cordial. It was the chief magistrate who administered Jardeleza’s oath at the Supreme Court on Aug. 20, the first time the two met again since the JBC deliberations.
“It was my first time to see her again after a long time,” said Jardeleza of the meeting with Sereno some two weeks ago.
During the meeting, the chief magistrate also gave Jardeleza a tour of the high court.
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