What’s your ‘ideal’ chief justice?

Paterno Esmaquel II
Led by city mayors, the "Ang Tipo Kong Chief Justice" movement wants Filipinos to describe their ideal chief magistrate

SOLICITING OPINIONS. On a tarpaulin during the launch, participants write their desired characteristics in an ideal Chief Justice, with the movement soliciting opinions from other Filipinos.

MANILA, Philippines – What characteristics do you want in an ideal Supreme Court (SC) Chief Justice?

On Day 13 of the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona, a group led by city mayors and other concerned citizens launched a movement “to set the standards that befit a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.”

Dubbed “Ang Tipo Kong Chief Justice,” the movement employs a fill-in-the-blank approach, similar to the Tourism Department’s #1forfun campaign, to solicit public opinion on the characteristics of an ideal Chief Justice.

For starters, the movement listed the following characteristics: 

  • Nagdedesisyon base sa ebidensya, hindi sa dilihensya (Decides based on evidence, not bribes)
  • Matalino pero hindi tuso (Intelligent but not deceptive)
  • Hindi nagfi-flip-flop (Does not flip-flop)

MAYORS LEAD. The League of Cities of the Philippines leads other groups in the launch of the "Ang Tipo Kong Chief Justice" movement in Quezon City.

“Ang Tipo Kong Chief Justice” includes the League of Cities of the Philippines (LCP), labor groups, religious organizations, non-government organizations, and other professionals. It also has a Twitter account, @tipongcj.

In Corona’s case

For the movement, Corona does not fit the mold of an ideal chief magistrate.

“During his tenure as Chief Justice, we have seen the lack of moral leadership that is required of the Chief Justice,” said one of the group’s convenors, lawyer Maria Shiela Bazar.

Earlier, LCP members expressed willingness to testify against Corona particularly regarding the SC’s “flip-flopping” decisions on the cityhood of 16 municipalities. 

For its part, FASAP said Corona lost credibility when he acted on the letters of Philippine Airlines lawyer Estelito Mendoza in relation to their 1998 retrenchment case. 

In his reply to the impeachment complaint against him, however, Corona said it is “unfair” to attribute the cityhood decision to him since he only has one vote in the SC, a collegial body. 

Regarding FASAP, Corona also said he has inhibited from the case since 2008.

‘Primus inter pares’

The position of Chief Justice attracts special attention because traditionally, the SC considers him its primus inter pares or first among equals.

This means the person “is the most senior of a group of people sharing the same rank or office,” said then Associate Justice Conchita Carpio Morales in her dissenting opinion on Arroyo’s appointment of then Chief Justice Reynato Puno’s successor – Corona.

In terms of voting rights, however, the 1987 Constitution grants nothing special to a person in this position. Like other SC justices, the Chief Justice only has one vote, and the court makes its decisions collegially.

Corona himself said this in connection with a case in 2005. “Although the Chief Justice is primus inter pares, he cannot legally decide a case on his own because of the Court’s nature as a collegial body. Neither can the Chief Justice, by himself, overturn the decision of the Court, whether of a decision or the en banc,” he said.

What then makes the Chief Justice special?

Despite having only one vote, the Chief Justice still “cannot be equaled,” noted Associate Justice Arturo Brion in his separate opinion on Arroyo’s so-called midnight appointment.

“He is the first among equals – a primus inter pares – who sets the tone for the Court and the judiciary, and who is looked up to on all matters, whether administrative or judicial,” Brion said.

“To the world outside the judiciary,” he explained, “he is the personification of the Court and the whole judiciary.” – Rappler.com

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Paterno Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.