The Judicial and Bar Council has transmitted to President Rodrigo Duterte its shortlist of aspirants for the Supreme Court’s top post, which will be left vacant when Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta retires on March 27.
In a letter to the President dated March 22, the seven-member JBC concurrently chaired by Peralta nominated Senior Associate Justice Estela Perlas-Bernabe and Associate Justices Alexander Gesmundo and Ramon Paul Hernando for the judiciary’s most coveted post.
Peralta will retire on his 69th birthday on March 27, one year ahead of the mandatory retirement age for judges and justices.
The nomination of the three SC justices came after they went through the public interview conducted by JBC members two weeks ago.
“Pursuant to Article VII, Section 9 of the Constitution, the Judicial and Bar Council has the honor to submit the following nominations of the position of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (vice Hon. Diosdado M. Peralta, who will optionally retire on March 27, 2021) . .” the JBC said.
The three senior associate justices were automatically nominated by the SC and have already complied with the requirements.
Under the rules, the five most senior magistrates of the JBC are automatically nominated as chief justice applicants, but by the end of the deadline, only Bernabe, who would retire on May 14, 2022;
Gesmundo, who would retire on Nov. 6, 2026; and Hernando, who would retire on Aug. 27, 2036, completed the requirements.
The two other senior SC Associate Justices who did not complete their application requirements were Marvic Leonen, who would retire on Dec. 29, 2032; and Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa, who would retire on Sept. 24, 2029.
Last December 1, the SC approved Peralta’s early retirement, but did not provide details why the Chief Justice opted to retire one year ahead of his mandatory retirement age.
The SC earlier issued a resolution recommending that the five senior justices, who are automatically nominated to the Chief Justice post, be exempted from the public interviews.
During the public interview, Bernabe shared the view of Ombudsman Samuel Martires that the Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth could be weaponized to destroy reputations of government officials.
Bernabe stressed that releasing a summary of the justice’s SALNs would be enough to promote transparency.
“I have really nothing to hide. It’s just that sometimes people tend to criticize or to find ways and means to really destroy the reputation of a justice,” Bernabe said.
“If there are complaints against the justice, then I think the complainant should really file a case in the proper forum,” she added.
Bernabe agreed with Martires’ view that SALNs could be used against public officials. “To a certain extent, yes,” she said.
“A justice is a person of integrity, competence. He has all the qualifications of a justice but it might come to a point where the SALN can be used to destroy this certain person,” she added.
Ombudsman Martires tightened the rules on the release of SALNs by requiring the requester to secure the consent of the declarant or the public official who owns the SALN.
Bernabe, who has been with the SC since 2011, said she’s healthy enough to lead the judiciary.
“I am very, very healthy and I am fit to be promoted to the position of chief justice,” the 68-year-old magistrate said. “My medical certificates could attest to that.”
This is Bernabe’s second time to apply for the highest post in the judiciary. She lost out to incumbent Chief Justice Peralta in 2019.