NOT one of the five associate justices has so far signified interest to apply for the most coveted post in the judiciary almost a month after Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno was ousted with finality by the Supreme Court through quo warranto proceedings.
The Judicial and Bar Council said that as of July 13, no one has applied for the position vacated by Sereno, including the five senior SC associate justices who were automatically nominated for the top judicial post.
Lawyer Jose Mejia, regular member of the JBC representing the academe, admitted that none of the five most senior justices—Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio and Associate Justices Presbitero Velasco Jr., Teresita Leonardo - de Castro, Diosdado Peralta and Lucas Bersamin—have accepted or declined their automatic nominations to become chief justice.
“Under the rules, while the five most senior justices ate automatically nominated for the chief justice post, they still have to formally accept the nomination to be officially considered as nominee or applicant,” Mejia said, in an interview.
The JBC, a seven-member body constitutionally tasked to screen nominees for judicial posts, opened nominations for the chief justice post last June 25 and set the deadline on July 25.
The 1987 Constitution requires that the chief justice position be filled within 90 days from vacancy, which means that President Rodrigo Duterte needs to appoint Sereno’s replacement by Sept. 16.
The Constitution requires the chief justice, just like associate justices of SC, to be a natural-born citizen, to be at least 40 years old, to have experience as judge or in private law practice for at least 15 days, and to be a person with proven competence, integrity, probity and independence.
When asked if the JBC will consider Carpio despite his pronouncement that he would decline the nomination for chief justice, Mejia explained their rules require that nominees should formally accept the nominations.
“To consider a nominee who has not accepted the nomination is not within the JBC rules,” the JBC official said.
Earlier, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, an ex-officio member of the JBC, said that the seven-member council might consider relaxing its rules on nominations for Carpio.
He explained that while JBC rules require nominees to accept the nominations to the council, this rule could be waived in the case of Carpio as sought by retired Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr. in his letter to the council.
“The JBC rules require the consent of the automatic nominee. But since there is a request to dispense with such consent, the JBC may have to consider it,” he said.
Guevarra said the JBC will discuss this matter in their next meeting, which will be presided by Carpio himself as acting chief justice and ex-officio chairman of the council.
In his recent letter to the JBC, Davide has supported the automatic nomination of Carpio for the chief justice post and asked the council to still consider the most senior justice in the current composition of the SC even if he formally declines the nomination.
“He had earlier been by-passed twice. Delicadeza should no longer be invoked because the decision in the quo warranto case is final. It has become the law of the case,” the retired chief justice stressed.
“The vacancy is real and lawful. He was not responsible for its occurrence. Personal consideration must now yield to the demands of public interest and of the good of the service. He should not deprive the President to have the opportunity for a wider field of choice for the best for the Supreme Court in particular and the Judiciary and the people in general,” he said.
Reports indicated that De Castro, Peralta and Bersamin are expected to accept their automatic nomimation to comply with the requirement of having at least three nominees for the post. Velasco, on the other hand, is retiring from the judiciary next month.
Apart from Carpio, Guevarra and Mejia, the other members of the JBC are Senate justice committee chairman Richard Gordon, retired SC justice Jose Catral-Mendoza, retired judge Toribio Ilao and lawyer Milagros Fernan-Cayosa.