‘Improper’ JBC questions led to striking out public interview of senior justices

MANILA, Philippines – The Supreme Court en banc was driven to request the striking out of public interviews for senior justice applicants because of improper questions from the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC), Associate Justice Marvic Leonen said on Thursday, October 25.

The JBC announced on Monday, October 22, that, after a majority vote, it approved the request of the Court en banc to no longer subject to public interviews the senior justices applying for chief magistrate.

The exemption also covers a justice with more than 5 years of experience; everyone else, especially outsiders, would still have to be interviewed.

“I think the Court en banc was disappointed that there were questions which, truth to say, were not proper, they catered to something, to a, well, to trivia, and would deter from focusing on what should matter as a Chief Justice,” Leonen said in a Rappler Talk interview on Thursday.

Leonen said the en banc request to the JBC was unanimous.

Improper questions?

Leonen did not say which questions the en banc did not approve of. He said “the sense of the Court was of course also reacting to the past interviews [for] the Chief Justice.”

In the interviews for Chief Justice in August, retired judge Toribio Ilao, true to his reputation of livening up what could otherwise be boring interviews, asked then-SC justice Teresita Leonardo de Castro what she felt about being called an "ampalaya" or bitter, and asked Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta if it’s true that the justice had been announcing he would be chief justice.

Past JBC interviews have been missing questions on hot-topic Supreme Court decisions, but retired justice Jose Mendoza has emerged to be the tough questioner, quizzing applicants on law and jurisprudence.

Defending the JBC’s 4-2 vote to do away with public interviews, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said  interviewing senior justices "would not serve any substantially useful purpose" because they had already been interviewed before.

“I was not comfortable with the whole exercise of probing sitting SC justices in full glare of the public,” said Guevarra, adding that it is the reason he does not join the interviews.

Missed opportunity?

Asked if the en banc tried to communicate its concerns to the JBC so there could have been adjustments, Leonen said the Court cannot instruct the council and that “all we could do is express our sense.”

Evidently, that expression of opposition was given weight by the JBC.

Leonen said the justices do not mind being probed and even criticized for their decisions, but that they would want an assessment that is thoughtfully crafted by reading and analyzing their entire decisions, not just the results.

“The Court was wanting the JBC to look at the body of work,” Leonen said.

A public interview would have been perfect opportunity to discuss decisions and opinions of the justices, such as when Peralta was made to answer for his ponencia on the Marcos burial case.

But Leonen said: “The decisions are out there, it is always uploaded by the PIO (Public Information Office).” – Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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