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Palace: Carpio’s views on West Philippine Sea policy won’t affect chief justice bid

Supreme Court Senior Associate Antonio Carpio's chances of getting the top job in the judiciary will not be affected by his critical view of President Rodrigo Duterte's policy in the West Philippine Sea, Malacañang said Monday.

Carpio is on the screening body Judicial and Bar Council's shortlist of five nominees for the chief justice seat vacated by retired Teresita Leonardo-De Castro. The four others are Associate Justices Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Estela Perlas-Bernabe and Andres Reyes Jr.

"I don’t think you can derive a conclusion that just because someone is a critic of the administration, you cannot be appointed," presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said at a news conference.

Panelo cited the appointments of former presidential spokesperson Harry Roque, who backed then-Vice President Jejomar Binay in the 2016 elections handily won by Duterte, and left-leaning personalities to the Cabinet. 

Carpio has been urging the government to protest China's continued activities in the disputed waters and assert Manila's victory over Beijing in the international arbitration tribunal. 

The Hague-based tribunal in 2016 handed a sweeping victory for the Philippines on the lawsuit it filed against China over their South China Sea disputes during the presidency of Benigno Aquino III. The tribunal invalidated Beijing's historical claims to nearly the entire South China Sea.

China does not recognize the ruling and maintained sovereignty and ownership over the resource-rich waters.

Instead of pressuring China to immediately comply with the landmark arbitration ruling, Duterte decided to set aside the decision but promised to raise it with China at a still-unspecified time in his six-year presidency.

Carpio said he is determined to fight for the Philippine’s sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea, even if it will cost him the appointment.

"If it [position on the WPS) becomes a factor, I cannot begrudge him [President Rodrigo Duterte] for that. That's part of his decision process," Carpio, the most senior SC justice, said over the weekend.

"But I also cannot change my position because we have to defend our sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea. That's the duty of a Filipino," he added.

Duterte had said he appointed De Castro, who only served for more than a month as successor to ousted top judge Maria Lourdes Sereno, on the basis of seniority.

He said there was no politics involved in the appointment of De Castro, adding he will apply the principle of seniority and take into consideration the merits of an applicant when filling in vacancies in government.

Asked if it was a foregone conclusion that Carpio will be appointed based on seniority, Panelo said: "Not necessarily."

"Siguro things being equally, eh paano kung hindi equal? It’s the President’s call and the prerogative lodged on him by the Constitution. It’s discretionary," the Palace official said. — RSJ, GMA News