Get real
Philippine Daily Inquirer, 28 July 2012


As I write this column, one ear is cocked to the last of the Judicial and Bar Council interviews, and it is obvious to me that some of its members reached and passed the point of diminishing marginal productivity, their contributions to the selection process turning negative. Launching into rambling discourses before and after asking questions, losing their cool, not paying attention, showing off for the TV cameras, getting argumentative, and even (although infrequently), kissing ass.

The two lady members, I must say, behaved impeccably, keeping their dignity at all times, and were never guilty of the behavior listed above. I expected it of retired Court of Appeals Justice Aurora Lagman, who has always impressed me. But Celing Fernan’s daughter, who was a tabula rasa to me, behaved like a chip off the old block, made of the same stuff her father was. I congratulate them both.

It was a master stroke of the JBC, though, to allow Juan de la Cruz to contribute questions through Twitter. If one notes that the questions from the public were more direct and to the point than those of the JBC members, it might be because there are limits to the length of a Twitter message, and not necessarily because the public is better than the JBC at asking questions. But one thing is sure: Those who tweeted questions were of the no-holds-barred variety.

I listened to what every candidate had to say, and to their answers—either live or through YouTube. And what did I come out with?

First, I am now even more convinced that Antonio Carpio is the best man for the job of chief justice. Not because there was any doubt before, but because more information came out during the interviews that buttressed my original opinion (which I expressed in this column some time ago).

What new information buttressed my original opinion? For one, the acting JBC chair, Supreme Court Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta, shared the information that when he first joined the high court, Carpio told him (I forget whether the information was gratuitous or not) that it took him (Carpio) three years to learn the ropes and feel comfortable with the breadth of the cases coming to the tribunal. Now Carpio is not dumb (valedictorian, bar topnotcher), and if it took him three years to learn the ropes, we cannot have an “outsider” taking the top position at the Supreme Court. Given the judiciary’s problems, we need somebody who not only can hit the ground running, but has in fact hit his stride, knows the terrain, and will not stumble.

It also turns out that in the two months that Carpio has headed the Supreme Court in an acting capacity, he has instituted or implemented procedures that would make for the tribunal’s greater operational efficiency. And it is not as if these just occurred to him, either, as a brainstorm. Why? Because Carpio must have expected, the moment he entered the high court, that he would be the chief justice after Reynato Puno. And he must have been preparing for it from Day One. So he has had a lot of time, not to mention the brains, to find out how to solve the judiciary’s problems.

Hubris on his part? No. Simple arithmetic. The tradition (and Carpio brought this out) in the Philippine Supreme Court, has apparently been that the most senior (in terms of years of service, not age) associate justice is the “llamado” to fill a vacancy in the top post. Except during the Japanese occupation, no “outsider” has done so. And given that the mandatory retirement age is 70, it doesn’t take rocket science to determine when the vacancy would occur, and who would be next in line. If arithmetic is not one’s strong suit, all one has to do is look at the high court sitting en banc, to see who is next in line—the one sitting at the right hand of the chief justice. The one sitting at his left is second in line, and so on. The ones sitting at the extreme left and right are the most junior and second most junior associate justices.

For example, when Justice Lourdes Sereno was appointed, I immediately calculated that in the ordinary course of events, she would be chief justice by 2020, which would then allow her nine years to put her stamp on the Sereno Court.

In the case of Carpio, the course of events were not ordinary. Renato Corona was appointed, although he was less senior than Carpio. (The Reader will remember that Carpio refused to be considered for the top post because he opined that then outgoing President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was constitutionally barred from appointing a chief justice at that point. But even if Carpio were on the JBC short list, Arroyo would have appointed Corona anyway.)

Another additional positive information about Carpio, which came out as a result of the accusation that he was a member of an old boys’ club (read: he was campaigning for the acquittal of Hubert Webb). He stated categorically that not only has he never asked any of his colleagues to support his views on a case, he has also never stepped into any of their chambers. I wonder how many of his colleagues can make the same statement. Perhaps it should be a rule at the Supreme Court, written or unwritten: no visiting each other’s offices.

I also did not know, until the JBC interviews, that in connection with his “Sigma Rho” connections, he had voted to dismiss a Court of Appeals justice who was a “brod.” No wonder a lot of his fraternity brothers badmouth him.

Retired Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban wrote about the qualifications for a chief justice in one of his columns. Well, Antonio Carpio meets ALL, not just some, of those requirements, in spades.