What is good for the goose is not good for the gander?
President Rodrigo Duterte, in justifying his appointment of Teresita De Castro as chief justice a couple of months ago, invoked the time-honored practice of naming the most senior magistrate as the country’s chief justice.
“Whoever goes first will be promoted first and that would go for everybody,” the president declared on August 27, 2018.
Harry Roque, then mouthpiece of the president, used the same line of reasoning in defending the choice of his former boss.
“PRRD upheld judicial professionalism by appointing the most senior of aspirants,” he said.
De Castro bagged the post despite the fact that she only held the position for a total of forty-one (41) days.
Malacanang could have easily give a valid explanation on not appointing De Castro by saying that she would be a lameduck because of the short period of time that she will lead the judiciary. Instead, the president insisted on observing an unwritten rule on seniority even if the peculiarity of the circumstances made his decision an impractical and unwise one.
After De Castro’s 41-day term as chief justice has ended, Duterte named Associate Justice Lucas Bersamin as De Castro’s successor.
So what happened to the so-called time-honored seniority rule in the Supreme Court? We thought that whoever goes first will be promoted first?
If the administration is serious in following this rule or practice, then the next chief justice should be acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio and not Bersamin.
Carpio, who joined the Supreme Court in 2001, is the most senior among the incumbent magistrates of the high court. In fact, he is more senior than De Castro who became justice in 2007. He just declined being nominated as chief justice after the ouster of Maria Lourdes Sereno out of delicadeza. Thus, he was not included in the shortlist submitted to the president during that time by the Judicial Bar Council (JBC).
But now that he accepted his nomination, Carpio is the most senior among those included in the shortlist submitted by the JBC including Bersamin who was appointed and joined the Supreme Court in 2009.
Undeniably, Malacanang merely invoked seniority in order to justify a flawed appointment of the retiring but unqualified Justice De Castro as chief justice and conveniently ignored the same when it bypassed the independent, brilliant and definitely more qualified Justice Carpio and chose a lackey and corrupt-friendly in the person of Justify Bersamin.
To clarify, we are not a fan of this seniority rule. On the contrary, the justices and chief justice, assuming that they satisfy the minimum requirements under the constitution, should be appointed based on their knowledge of the law, competence and integrity, character and principles regardless of their number of years in the Supreme Court.
Our issue here is the glaring inconsistency and double standard of the president in making a choice on who will lead and take charge of a separate and supposedly independent constitutional branch of government.
Moreover, the more important issue here is the appointment of someone whose past rulings, including his own ponencia such as the Enrile bail case and the dismissal of the cases against Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, are not only controversial and questionable but are undeniably inimical to the interest of the people and the nation.