The Judicial and Bar Council on Thursday grilled six of 12 candidates who were nominated for the position in the Supreme Court to be vacated by Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr. when he retires on August.
During the interviews, Court of Appeals Justices Ramon Garcia, Oscar Badelles, Manuel Barrios and Amy Lazaro-Javier; Judge Carlos Espero RTC Davao City; and former Ateneo College of Law Dean Cesar Villanueva were asked by JBC members on various issues.
The seven-member council vetted the SC aspirants by testing their opinions on various pressing issues including the ouster of Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno, the conflict with China in the West Philippine Sea, and the proposed legalization of divorce and same-sex marriage in the country.
Badelles was asked for his opinion on the WPS conflict, and he sees no active role of the judiciary on this issue.
“Historically judiciary awaits cases to be filed. But basically, the pursuit on West Philippine Sea should be done by the executive branch. Judiciary does not have an active role on that,” he opined.
Badelles was also quizzed on moves to allow same-sex marriage in the country, which the SC will hear in oral arguments on June 19. He said it cannot be allowed under the 1987 Constitution.
“Freedom of religion is given preferred status over civil political rights, so if it’s between freedom of religion and freedom against discrimination, freedom of religion has higher preference under the Constitution,” he said.
According to him, gay couples may be discriminated if marriage is prohibited, but explained that this is because “one right is superior than the other.”
Barrios, for his part, was asked about Sereno’s ouster via quo warranto case and gave a more academic answer.
“What is quo warranto and when it is applicable? It is a legal remedy to question the fitness and qualification or lack of qualification of a certain person to a government position or a government officer who reached the limit of his term but refuses to vacate office,” he stressed.
On the issue of divorce, Barrios said it is “against public policy” because the country’s laws “do not recognize foreign divorces except if one party is a foreigner the other is a Filipino.”
The six other aspirants - CA Justices Jose Reyes, Rosmari Carandang, Ramon Bato, Ramon Hernando and Apolinario Bruselas; and Court Administrator Jose Midas Marquez - were no longer required to face the JBC because of their previous interview within the past year for a similar vacancy in the SC.
The Constitution requires an SC justice to be at least 40 years of age; with 15 years or more experience as a judge of a lower court or in the practice of law in the country; and has proven competence, integrity, probity and independence.
The rules also require applicants to submit 17 documentary requirements, including their complete sworn statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) for the previous years.
All applicants must also submit the results of their medical examinations that they took within the past six months.
After Velasco’s post, the JBC is expected to open another vacancy for an associate justice of the SC to be left by the retirement of Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo-De Castro this October.
The JBC is chaired by Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio with ex-officio members - Senator Richard Gordon and Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali on sharing term and Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra.
The regular members of the council are retired SC justice Jose Catral-Mendoza, retired judge Toribio Ilao, and lawyers Jose Mejia and Milagros Fernan-Cayosa.