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Breaking Traditions: The Chief Justice in the Making

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Is seniority in ranks really an edge? Is seniority in positions really an advantage? Is seniority an absolute assurance to the top post?

Seniority refers to preferential status, privileges, or rights given an employee based on the employee’s length of service with an employer. Employees with seniority may receive additional or enhanced benefit packages and obtain competitive advantages over fellow employees in layoff and promotional decisions. It basically refers to the status of being older or senior.

But, would seniority really matter in the case of appointing a Chief Justice in this jurisdiction?

The Supreme Court

The judicial power shall be vested in one Supreme Court and in such lower courts as may be established by law. The Supreme Court shall be composed of a Chief Justice and fourteen Associate Justices. It may sit en banc or in its discretion, in division of three, five, or seven Members. Any vacancy shall be filled within ninety (90) days from the occurrence thereof.

The Members of the Supreme Court and judges of the lower courts shall be appointed by the President from a list of at least three nominees prepared by the Judicial and Bar Council for every vacancy. Such appointments need no confirmation.

For the lower courts, the President shall issue the appointments within ninety days from the submission of the list. [Emphasis supplied]

The Constitution provides qualifications for the Member of the Supreme Court, to wit: No person shall be appointed Member of the Supreme Court or any lower collegiate court unless he is a natural-born citizen of the Philippines.

A Member of the Supreme Court must be at least forty years of age, and; Must have been for fifteen years or more, a judge of a lower court or engaged in the practice of law in the Philippines.
A Member of the Judiciary must be a person of proven competence, integrity, probity, and independence.

The Role of the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC)

A Judicial and Bar Council is hereby created under the supervision of the Supreme Court composed of the Chief Justice as ex officio Chairman, the Secretary of Justice, and a representative of the Congress as ex officio Members, a representative of the Integrated Bar, a professor of law, a retired Member of the Supreme Court, and a representative of the private sector.

The regular members of the Council shall be appointed by the President for a term of four years with the consent of the Commission on Appointments. Of the Members first appointed, the representative of the Integrated Bar shall serve for four years, the professor of law for three years, the retired Justice for two years, and the representative of the private sector for one year.

The Clerk of the Supreme Court shall be the Secretary ex officio of the Council and shall keep a record of its proceedings. The regular Members of the Council shall receive such emoluments as may be determined by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court shall provide in its annual budget the appropriations for the Council.

The Council shall have the principal function of recommending appointees to the Judiciary. It may exercise such other functions and duties as the Supreme Court may assign to it. [Emphasis supplied]

Under the Rules of the JBC, application for appointment may be done by the applicant himself or by recommendation of another person, an association or organization. In the latter case, the applicant concerned must manifest his acceptance of the recommendation either in the recommendation paper itself or in a separate document. At this point, the JBC shall publish the list of applicants or recommendees which the Council shall consider in a given time shall be published once in a newspaper of general circulation in the Philippines and once in a newspaper of local circulation in the province or city where the vacancy in question is located. The publication shall invite the public to inform the Council within the period fixed therein of any complaint or derogatory information against the applicant.

In addition to the Constitutional qualifications of the Members of the Judiciary, under the JBC RULES, the following are likewise necessary: Competence of the applicants, educational preparation, experience, performance and other accomplishments

  • Evidence of integrity and disqualifications (e.g. pending criminal or administrative cases)
  • Probity/Independence
  • Sound physical, mental and emotional condition
  • Conduct of personal interviews

It is noteworthy however that under Rule 8 of the JBC Rules, it is enshrined that:


SECTION 1. Due weight and regard to recommendees of the Supreme Court. – In every case involving an appointment to a seat in the Supreme Court, the Council shall give due weight and regard to the recommendees of the Supreme Court. For this purpose, the Council shall submit to the Court a list of the candidates for any vacancy in the Court with an executive summary of its evaluation and assessment of each of them, together with all relevant records concerning the candidates from whom the Court may base the selection of its recommendees.

SEC. 2. Age of prospective nominee. – In the selection of nominees to a vacancy in the Supreme Court, the Council must consider his age with a view to discourage appointment of those who would not be able to serve it for a reasonably sufficient time. [Emphasis supplied]

The JBC Rules particularly Section 2 of Rule taking into consideration the age of the prospective nominee encourages, gives support and confidence and is likewise advancing the idea that a younger nominee having had all the minimum qualifications must be highlighted so as to be able to allow that prospective nominee to serve for a reasonably sufficient time. In construing the said provision, while it did not criticize those prospective nominees whose ages are nearing retirement, it will simply mean that those who are young, qualified and dedicated to the service must not be discriminated. Of course it must be emphasized likewise that he or she must not have any of the disqualifications.

The Impeachment Trial

In the most recent impeachment trial against Renato Corona, on Article II of the Articles of Impeachment against Corona, which accuses the Respondent Chief Justice of failing to disclose to the public his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth as required by the Constitution makes it a sine qua non condition for continuing to hold office as such is the SALN.

Section 17, Article XI of the Constitution provides that:

“A public officer or employee shall, upon assumption of office and as often thereafter as may be required by law, submit a declaration under oath of his assets, liabilities, and net worth. In the case of the President, the Vice-President, the Members of the Cabinet, the Congress, the Supreme Court, the Constitutional Commissions and other constitutional offices, and officers of the armed forces with general or flag rank, the declaration shall be disclosed to the public in the manner provided by law”. [Emphasis supplied]

On the other hand R.A. 6713, known as the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees encompasses the right of the public to information pertaining to the assets, liabilities and net worth of public officials.

Further, Section 1 [Supra] states that public office is a public trust. Public officers and employees must, at all times, be accountable to the people, serve them with utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty, and efficiency; act with patriotism and justice, and lead modest lives.

This is not to mention that Section 2, Article XI of the Constitution provides that the President, the Vice-President, the Members of the Supreme Court, the Members of the Constitutional Commissions, and the Ombudsman may be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, culpable violation of the Constitution, treason, bribery, graft and corruption, other high crimes, or betrayal of public trust. All other public officers and employees may be removed from office as provided by law, but not by impeachment.

The Breaking of Traditions

While traditionally, supposed to be, naturally, and even logic dictates it has to be the most senior who should get the top post, whether in the government or private sector. But then again, there is no legal guarantee, there is no constitutional promise, there is no jurisprudential security, there is no absolute assurance that the most senior in line is the one who will get it. It does not really work that way. Be it in private or in the government service.

To cite example, when Claudio Teehankee was appointed as Associate Justice in the Supreme Court on 17 December 1968, he made it to the post as Chief Justice only in 2 April 1986 as appointed by Former Pres. Corazon Aquino. CJ Teehankee was most senior to Felix Makasiar appointed as Associated Justice on 2 August 1970 and Ramon Aquino appointed as Associated Justice on 29 October 1973. And yet, Makasiar was appointed as CJ on 2 August 1970 and Aquino on 29 October 1973 both as CJ by former Pres. Ferdinand Marcos.

This is to emphasize that the breaking of traditions have been a tradition since time immemorial, breaking traditions have been a practice since beyond memory. Clearly, breaking traditions is not unconstitutional. At the end of the day, it is the appointing head that will prevail. The power to appoint is a constitutional mandate

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