MANILA, Philippines - Former energy secretary Raphael 'Popo' Lotilla has declined his nomination to the post of chief justice, saying the tradition of appointing the leader of the high tribunal based on seniority should be restored in the Supreme Court.
Lotilla, who was nominated to the post by Calixto Chikiamco of the Foundation for Economic Freedom on June 11, said that upholding the tradition of seniority will help "mute" political ambitions and insulate the Office of the Chief Justice from the "patronato" or patronage system.
"In the past, I took the position 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. I still have to be convinced of the wisdom of departing from that view," he wrote in a letter to Chikiamco.
Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo deviated from this tradition in 2005, when she named Justice Artemio Panganiban as chief justice instead of Justice Reynato Puno. Puno was later appointed chief justice in 2007.
Lotilla said that in the past, then Justice Jose J.B.L Reyes allegedly refused to be considered for the post of chief justice even if he was older than the most senior member of the SC then -- Justice Roberto Concepcion -- in observance of the said tradition.
"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," he wrote.
Currently, the most senior SC justice is Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio. He is automatically nominated to replace former Chief Justice Renato Corona, along with the other 4 most senior members of the SC -- Associate Justices Arturo Brion, Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, Diosdado Peralta, and Presbitero Velasco Jr.
Three junior SC justices have also been nominated: Justices Jose Perez, Lourdes Sereno and Roberto Abad. Abad, who was appointed to the SC in 2009, is the oldest SC justice, member, at 68, however. If appointed, he will only serve until 2014.
Lotilla also pushed for the appointment of an SC insider, saying appointing an outsider to head the highest court of the land should only be done "for overwhelming reasons, such as the inability of the incumbent members of the Court to redeem themselves and the institution."
Meanwhile, 17 outsiders (excluding Lotilla) have also been nominated to the post including Comelec commissioner Rene Sarmiento, Dean Amado Valdez of the University of the East College of Law, Roan Libarios, president of the Integrated Bar of the Phiippines, lawyer Pedro Aquino, government peace panel chair Marvic Leonen, former congressman Teodoro "Teddy Boy" Locsin Jr, former Solicitor-General Francisco "Frank" Chavez, Bureau of Internal Revenue Commissioner Kim Henares, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, incumbent Solicitor-General Francis Jardeleza, University of the Philippines professors Rafael Morales and Katrina Legarda, former UP law dean Raul Pangalangan, former Ateneo law dean Cesar Villanueva, lawyer Nepomuceno Aparis, retired judge Manuel Siyangco, and former SC nominee Rodolfo Robles.
Lotilla is the second nominee to back out of the race for the post of chief justice. Former provincial prosecutor Marianito Sasodoncillo also declined his nomination on June 11.
With Lotilla and Sasodoncillo out of the contention, there are now 25 nominees left to the post of chief justice. Retired Court of Appeals Justice Hilarion Aquino was previously disqualified because he is already 80 years old. The mandatory retirement age of Supreme Court justices is 70. The sole applicant to the post, Jocelyn Esquivel, could not also be considered for the post because she is not a lawyer. Esquivel is a teacher and a nurse.
The Judicial and Bar Council -- the body that vets judiciary aspirants for appointment by the president -- will accept applications and nominations for the post vacated by Corona until June 18, Monday.
Corona was found guilty by the impeachment court of violating the Constitution and betraying public trust after he failed to declare P183 million in peso and dollar bank deposits in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth. - Rappler.com