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Independence of a CJ’s mind

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No president should worry about not having the Supreme Court in his pocket. In truth, the danger is when the President and the Judiciary come to terms. The victim is democracy.’

The enemies of Associate Justice Antonio T. Carpio who is now acting Chief Justice are telling President Aquino that the man is difficult to handle and therefore unlikely willing to be in the pocket of Malacañang.

They cite two cases. First was his opposition to the Charter Change proposed by President Ramos in 1995 when Carpio was chief presidential legal counsel. When Ramos insisted, Carpio resigned. Public disgust over the proposal forced the principal sponsor of PIRMA to drop the idea like a hot potato.

The second was when Carpio, named to the Supreme Court in 2001, led the majority in thrashing the People’s Initiative which sought to change the form of government from Presidential to Parliamentary.

Carpio had a simple argument. While the Constitution allows Peoples’ Initiative, the Charter also mandates the enactment of a law that would define how the initiative is to be implemented.

Up to now, there is no enabling legislation covering the initiative. Carpio and his peers had no choice but to junk the proposal filed by then Speaker Jose de Venecia on behalf of Gloria Arroyo.

If the plan had been approved by the Supreme Court, Gloria Arroyo would up to this day be Prime Minister.
That decision earned the ire of Gloria Arroyo and she made sure that Carpio, one of her first appointees to the Tribunal, would never be Chief Justice.
It need not be said that all majority decisions are collegial. But the opponents of Carpio make it appear that the two decisions against two Presidents were solely his.

I have always thought the best qualification of a Chief Justice is his courage, inspired by his best lights and knowledge of the Constitution and the laws, to say the President is wrong because his case does not sit with law.

That is the only way this so-called democratic country can have an independent judiciary. Independence of the Tribunal puts everybody – particularly the President and other powerful people – on guard.

It should never be forgotten that while the Chief Justice wields awesome powers, he does not necessarily have his peers at his back and call.
The lack of independence of the Supreme Court, then headed by Chief Justice Renato Corona who was a midnight appointee, was the very reason the President sought the impeachment and eventual conviction of Corona.

I have no right to tell the President who should succeed Corona. I just think that he defeats his own purpose of seeking judicial independence if he is against Carpio because of the independence which, in two cases, was decided against the politics of two presidents.

That is the kind of man the President really needs if independence must be pursued with sincerity and vigor. No president should worry about not having the Supreme Court in his pocket.

In truth, the danger is when the President and the Judiciary come to terms. The victim is democracy. The damage is irreparable and may be repaired only by impeaching the Head Magistrate.

If the President, as he did, caused the conviction of Renato Corona whom he believed was unabashedly loyal to Gloria Arroyo and not the Constitution, he should not make the mistake of not learning from the lessons of lack of independence of the chief justice.

That is exactly what will happen if President Aquino yields to powerful political pressures who obviously hate Justice Carpio for repeatedly showing independence of mind.

We have it on good authority that President Aquino has nothing personal against Mr. Carpio. However it is now apparent that it is his personal politics that prevent him from appointing the most senior associate justice.

What has not become personal is his apparent dislike for a Chief Justice who may not do his bidding.
We hear very often that the President prefers Justice Secretary Leila de Lima. The problem is she has a disbarment case which prevents the JBC from including her name in the short list of candidates/

To avoid suspicions that like his predecessor, President Aquino wants a Supreme Court in his pocket, he might seriously consider the suggestion of Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile to subject all nominees to the post of Chief Justice to a new bar examination.

That, to Enrile’s mind, would avoid the appointment of another Corona. For my part, I suggest that Enrile himself write the questions and make sure against leakage.

The passer with the highest mark should be automatically considered for Chief Justice.
As it is the post has been cheapened by an incredible number of nominees. There were more than 62 at one point.
It seems that anybody can nominate any lawyer. The first preference of President Aquino was said to be Senator Frank Drilon. But since he voted for the conviction of Corona, the lawmaker from Iloilo declined the nomination because he did not want people suspecting that his vote was for his self interest. Bar topnotcher Gilberto Teodoro also declined.

The rest of the nominees, except Ronaldo B. Zamora, a law valedictorian and also a topnotcher, and maybe at least half a dozen more, are a mixture of the ridiculous and the sublime.

We can learn some lessons knowing the identities of people who submit names of lawyers to the Judicial and Bar Council. In a manner of speaking submission of the nomination may show a hidden agenda or genuine concern for the independence of the Supreme Court.

We have to say it again. The fear of the President that Carpio may not be as pliant as Corona is a first step towards attaining independence of the judiciary. Which is not saying the other nominees can be swayed by the President. It is just that Carpio already has a record of being independent minded. He knows that it is this mind that keeps him away from the highest post in the Supreme Court. He should be happy doing his job according to the dictates of his conscience.




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