“The President must be careful.”
As I write this essay, there are still five vacancies in the Court of Appeals. The vacancies were created by the retirement or promotion of five associate justices of the appellate court.
Last Tuesday, the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC), the constitutional body that screens nominees to all judicial posts, released to the public its short list of 20 names, mostly judges of the Regional Trial Court (RTC), for any of those five vacancies. The short list is addressed to President Rodrigo Duterte, who has the sole power to appoint justices.
I have seen the shortlist and I must warn President Duterte and his most trusted ally, Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go, that there are some names in the JBC’s shortlist they should watch out for.
The JBC has become a highly politicized agency. Many lawyers suspect that some members of the JBC use their power to screen judges and justices to extract a debt of gratitude from whosoever they manage to get appointed to the judiciary.
If a past or incumbent member of the JBC appears in court in person or through a surrogate law firm, and the judge or justice hearing the case owes his appointment to that JBC member, it is very likely that the judge or justice will favor his patron.
These persons of influence don’t even need to personally appear in court. Many lawyers say that a telephone call suffices.
That is bad news for the justice system in the country.
The JBC is also notorious for the vested interests of some of its members.
Last February 2021, the JBC had the temerity to include the name of Milagros Fernan-Cayosa in the short list of nominees to the Court of Appeals which it sent to President Duterte. Fernan-Cayosa’s husband, then Integrated Bar President Egon Cayosa, was a member of the very same JBC that nominated her. Joozkoo!
There are times when the JBC did a sloppy job.
In 2011, the JBC included an RTC judge in its short list for appointments to the Court of Appeals. Nine years after the judge had already been appointed to the Court of Appeals, it was discovered that the judge failed to submit all the required documents for her appointment.
President Duterte should be advised that some of the RTC judges in the JBC’s short list for the Court of Appeals are in that list only because of their close connections to some of the members of the JBC, and not because they are truly qualified and deserving.
That’s not all.
President Duterte is probably unaware that some of the RTC judges included by the JBC shortlist for the Court of Appeals are rabid anti-Duterte partisans. In all likelihood, these judges probably managed to conceal their dislike for President Duterte when they were interviewed by the JBC earlier this year.
The common denominator of these anti-Duterte judges is that they are currently stationed in the National Capital Judicial Region; they were appointed to the RTC by President Noynoy Aquino; they are known to strongly dislike President Duterte and Senator Bong Go; and they are staunch supporters of Vice President Leni Robredo, who is running for president in the coming elections, and the Liberal Party (LP) which is Robredo’s de facto political party.
Now that these anti-Duterte judges are courting the good graces of President Duterte, they conveniently pretend to be either pro-Duterte, or disinterested in partisan politics. The truth is, they hate President Duterte and Senator Bong Go, and that they indirectly and clandestinely campaigned for the LP’s Otso Diretso senatorial ticket in the May 2019 elections.
Once these politicized judges become justices of the Court of Appeals, they are bound to continue their stealthy, underhanded attacks against President Duterte and Senator Go, and other enemies of the LP.
One of the judges in the JBC short list for the Court of Appeals is known in legal circles for his side remarks against President Duterte whenever he holds trials. Another judge in the list also makes side remarks while in court, but in praise of Robredo and the latter’s imaginary achievements.
Still another judge in the short list is quietly but rabidly anti-Duterte, and remains a secret die-hard supporter of Noynoy Aquino, Robredo and the LP. Before he joined the judiciary, this relatively young judge was appointed to a high post in the administration of Noynoy Aquino. He got that appointment through endorsements from ex-Senator Mar Roxas and a Roxas cousin. Roxas was Noynoy’s unsuccessful vice presidential running mate in the 2016 elections.
President Duterte should be careful about whom to appoint as justices of the Court of Appeals because all justices stay in office until they turn 70 years old. For many appointees, that’s going to be a long, long time.