By Ellen Tordesillas
While almost every lawyer in town and a nurse want to be included in the list of candidates for the position of Supreme Court Justice, vacated by the recently convicted Renato Corona, it's good to see two people declining.
Former Energy Secretary Raphael "Popo" Lotilla wrote a letter the other day thanking friends who submitted his name to the Judicial and Bar Council, that will screen the nominations and submit to the Malacañang a short list (usually three names) from where the President will choose the next SC justice.
He was nominated by former economic managers and economists Roberto de Ocampo, Calixto Chikiamko, Gloria Tan Climaco, Bong Montes, Simon Paterno and Romeo Bernardo.
Yesterday, former Defense Secretary Gilbert "Gibo"Teodoro was nominated by Atty. Jose Mallari.
Teodoro, cousin of the President who ran for president last year under the Arroyo administration's Lakas-Kampi ticket, has impressive credentials. A bar topnotcher, he obtained his Bachelor of Laws from the University of the Philippines (magna cum laude) and his master of laws at Harvard University.
Teodoro told a friend that he will decline the nomination and that he supports the position of Lotilla.
Lotilla's position is that, "in a highly politicized context as in the Philippines, appointment to the office of the Chief Justice based on seniority is a tradition that minimizes the jockeying for appointment from within and outside of the Court."
Lotilla further said: "Without any legal compulsion behind it, this tradition was, in instances few and far between, set aside. But, time and again, its restoration has been welcomed with relief, like a lost valued symbol of character regained anew. Today, we have an opportunity to restore the tradition—or completely to overturn it. It reminds me of a story told, apocryphal perhaps, that the much venerated Justice Jose B.L. Reyes—who was older in age but less senior in tenure in the Court than the respected Roberto Concepcion—was considered for appointment as CJ to allow him to occupy the Court's highest position. J.B.L., it is said, would have none of it.
"The tradition of seniority has a way of muting political ambitions and insulates to some degree the office of Chief Justice from the patronato system. Over the long term, particularly under future presidencies whose virtues we are unable to anticipate at this point, adherence to the principle of seniority may still be our best option. Restoration of the tradition, which is entirely of Philippine innovation, would then shift the national focus to the quality of every future appointment to the Court, and away from the position solely of the Chief Justice. Would not this be in better keeping with the collegial character of the Republic's Supreme Court?
"I suggest that only for overwhelming reasons, such as the inability of the incumbent members of the Court to redeem themselves and the institution, should we consider appointing from outside of the Court. Whether these weighty considerations exist, the appointing power can be a better judge from the unobstructed view of the leader's lair. But my own individual assessment is colored with undisguised optimism: that the members of the Court, individually and as a collective, have distilled from recent experience lessons of primordial import for rebuilding and strengthening national institutions including the Court itself."
If Lotilla's suggestion would be followed, acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio, would be it