SC nominee Gaerlan: PH needs federalism, but not ready yet

Lian Buan
SC nominee Gaerlan: PH needs federalism, but not ready yet
Court of Appeals Associate Justice Samuel Gaerlan also rejects the perception that the CA is tainted with graft and corruption

MANILA, Philippines – Court of Appeals (CA) Associate Justice Samuel Gaerlan said on Tuesday, July 4, that though he sees federalism as necessary, the Philippines is not yet ready for a shift in its system of government.

Gaerlan made the remark during his interview with the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC), which is screening nominees for President Rodrigo Duterte’s 4th appointee to the Supreme Court (SC).

“Federalism is giving autonomy to a certain region wherein they can exercise, to decentralize power,” Gaerlan said, getting help from retired justice Angelina Sandoval-Gutierrez, a JBC member who is known for her tough questions during public interviews likened to a graded recitation.

Gaerlan said he agrees with the stance of President Rodrigo Duterte that federalism is the way to go for the Philippines.

“In that way, that will also address the clamor of our Muslim brothers in the south, even in the other parts of the country, so that the concentration of power is not only confined [to] imperial Manila,” he added.

But asked whether he thinks the Philippines is ready for federalism, Gaerlan said, “No.”

“The President may know your answer,” Sandoval-Gutierrez quipped, eliciting a smile from Gaerlan.

Gaerlan graduated from the San Beda College of Law in 1958. He is up against mostly fellow associate justices vying to become Duterte’s 4th appointee to the SC.

Issues within CA

Retired judge Toribio Ilao, a JBC member, took a question from Twitter which alleged corruption in the CA.

“I don’t believe the CA as an institution is tainted with graft and corruption. It’s just a bad public impression,” Gaerlan responded, explaining that the temporary restraining orders (TROs) issued by the appellate court gave them this image.

“Public perception is particularly addressed towards TROs, like the TROs are for sale, like what happened to the case of Binay,” he added.

He was referring to the TRO the CA issued in 2015 to stop the suspension order of the Ombudsman against former Makati City mayor Junjun Binay. The matter even reached the SC, where the High Court upheld the CA’s order but also struck down the condonation doctrine. Under that doctrine, an elected official’s administrative offenses are deemed forgiven when he or she is reelected for another term.

Speaking for himself, Gaerlan said that while he has many social circles, including religious groups, he makes decisions independently.

Napoles acquittal, martial law

Gaerlan was one of the concurring justices when alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles was acquitted of serious illegal detention by the CA. The CA decision reversed the 2015 conviction of Makati Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 150.

Asked whether the CA decision was politically motivated, Gaerlan said it was in fact public pressure which he thinks led to the Makati RTC’s ruling.

“Upon my review of the case, there was no serious illegal detention because Benhur Luy was free to go out and contact family,” Gaerlan said. 

Meanwhile, on the issue of martial law in Mindanao, Gaerlan said he believes there is sufficient factual basis for Duterte’s declaration. As the JBC interviews were ongoing, the SC had been voting on the matter. The High Court later announced it had voted to uphold the declaration of martial law. –

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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 or tweet @lianbuan.