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Group launches ‘Bantay Korte Suprema’ to guard selection of new SC justices

November 17, 2008 3:13pm

MANILA, Philippines – With the retirement of the seven Supreme Court Justices next year, a civil society group on Monday launched a program to ensure transparency and integrity in the selection of future members of the Judiciary.

In his report over QTV Balitanghali, GMA News’ Carlo Lorenzo said the a group of retired Supreme Court Justices, the legal academe, lawyers' associations, practitioners, selected legislators, chambers of commerce and media organizations created the “Bantay Korte Suprema" project to encourage public participation in the evaluation of the fitness, integrity and competence of nominees to the Supreme Court.

In 2009, seven out of the 15 Justices are set to retire. They are:

• Ruben Reyes,
• Adolfo Azcuna,
• Dante Tinga,
• Consuelo Ynares-Santiago,
• Leonardo Quisumbing,
• Minita Chico-Nazario, and
• Alicia Austria-Martinez will opt for early retirement in April.

Of the seven retiring, Santiago and Quisumbing only were not appointed by President Arroyo.

Former Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban, one of the proponents of the movement, said he pushes for the transparency on the voting process of the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC), the body that vets and screens nominees to judicial positions.

After screening nominees to the Supreme Court posts, the JBC then forwards its recommendations to the President.

“Sinusuportahan ko yung proposal ni JBC member [Atty. Conrado] Castro na maging transparent ang voting process (I support JBC member Castro’s proposal that its voting process be transparent)," Panganiban said.

For his part, Senate Majority Leader and JBC member Francis Pangilinan said the “Bantay Korte Suprema" will neither choose nor endorse a candidate, “but if we receive information that makes a candidate incompetent, we will divulge this to the public and inform the JBC."

Meanwhile, former Senator Jovito Salonga underscored the importance of vigilance to ensure that Mrs Arroyo does not appoint her allies to give her immunity from the controversies hounding her administration even after her term ends.

“Kinakailangang bantayan si GMA [Gloria Macapagal Arroyo] sapagkat laganap ang balitang gusto niya’y i-appoint ang tao niya, (We need to be vigilant of Arroyo’s movements because we’ve been hearing she will appoint her allies)" Salonga said.

A coalition of law groups and civil society had earlier re-launched the Supreme Court Appointments Watch (SCAW) to monitor the appointment of persons to judicial positions.

The SCAW consortium, composed of the Alternative Law Groups, Libertas, Philippine Association of law Schools and the Transparency and Accountability Network, together with the online news magazine Newsbreak, reactivated itself to prepare for the selection process of candidates to the vacancies in the high court.

Malacañang, however, brushed aside the consortium’s call for closer scrutiny of nominees to the Tribunal, saying such appeals are unnecessary.

Deputy presidential spokesperson Lorelei Fajardo said Mrs Arroyo appoints "only the finest judiciary minds of outstanding character because that is what the people deserve." "The Palace welcomes their call, albeit unnecessary, and should be directed to the JBC," she said.

The JBC

The JBC has set for next week a public interview with the contenders vying for a Supreme Court post.

Among those who will be grilled are the chief legal counsel of President Arroyo, a former commissioner of the Bureau of Internal Revenue, and justices from the Sandiganbayan and Court of Appeals.

On November 19, scheduled for interview are former BIR Comissioner Jose Mario Bunag, CA Associate Justices Mariano del Castillo and Juan Enriquez and Solicitor General Agnes Devanadera. In the afternoon, CA justices Remedios Salazar-Fernando, Portia Alino-Hormachuelos and Sandiganbayan presiding justice Diosdado Peralta will face the JBC.

On November 20, scheduled for interview are CA justices Andres Reyes, Josefina Salonga, Sandiganbayan justice Edilberto Sandoval and real estate businessman Rodolfo Robles. Ateneo Dean Cesar Villanueva and CA justice Martin Villarama and Sandiganbayan’s Francisco Villaruz will be interviewed in the afternoon.

The JBC is composed of the chief justice as ex-officio head with representatives from the Integrated Bar of the Philippines , the academe, retired member of the SC and from the private sector as regular members.

Other ex-officio members are the secretary of Justice and two members from Congress. - Sophia Dedace, GMANews.TV