MANILA, Philippines (2nd UPDATE) – Some lawmakers on Saturday, August 25, questioned the appointment of new Chief Justice Teresita Leonardo De Castro who will serve as top magistrate for less than two months.
In a statement, Senator Francis Pangilinan said there is no “public value” in appointing De Castro as top magistrate, and likened this to “endo” or end of contract, a scheme in some companies where employees’ contracts are swiftly terminated.
“[The] appointment of endo CJ does not help in the strengthening of the rule of law. Why appoint someone who will only sit as CJ for less than two months? What public purpose does it serve? What public value does it create? The appointment leaves much to be desired,” said Pangilinan, who is also Liberal Party president.
Albay 1st District Representative Edcel Lagman called the decision a “precipitate appointment,” which “deprived” the Judicial and Bar Council the option to reconsider De Castro’s inclusion in the shortlist of nominees for chief justice.
Opposition lawmakers at the House of Representatives filed impeachment complaints against 7 justices – including De Castro – who ousted Maria Lourdes Sereno through a quo warranto petition 3 months ago. (READ: ‘You’re oppressive!’: Sereno, De Castro face off in SC orals)
“De Castro also betrayed public trust when she refused to inhibit herself from the adjudication of a quo warranto petition despite her admitted continuing ill will and bias against Sereno,” Lagman said.
Lagman also cited the “hefty retirement benefits” De Castro would receive when she retires, an “enhanced retirement package” even if she would serve as top magistrate for only 42 days. De Castro will retire in early October.
Senator Risa Hontiveros also called De Castro’s appointment as “absolutely short-sighted.”
“It fell terribly short on many fronts: short on integrity, short on vision and short on courage. President Duterte just took the shortest and surest path to keeping the Supreme Court under his control,” she said.
Some lawmakers saw De Castro’s appointment as a “reward” for ousting Sereno. (READ: ‘Ayawan na’: Netizens dismayed by De Castro’s appointment as Chief Justice)
“She would retire in less than two months with a pabaon (take home) of a Chief Justice. This is a clear case of bayad-utang, walang delikadeza, at garapalan sa gobyerno (pay back, no sense of propriety, and shamelessness in government),” said Magdalo Representative Gary Alejano.
ACT Teachers Representatives Antonio Tinio and France Castro shared Alejano’s view.
“President Duterte’s decision to appoint a nominee who is set to retire in two months suggests that he’s motivated by short-term political interests rather than any intention to strengthen the credibility and independence of the Supreme Court,” Tinio said.
Akbayan party list said De Castro’s appointment favored the Marcos family, citing De Castro’s vote in favor of a hero’s burial for the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos.
“Her next mission could be putting the Marcoses back in power by favoring Bongbong Marcos’ sham electoral protest,” said Akbayan president Machris Cabreros.
Hontiveros also called on the public to “closely guard” the electoral protest and the Philippines’ withdrawal from the International Criminal Court.
“I call on the public to exercise extra vigilance in these extremely challenging times… While the new Chief Justice’s term will be the shortest, it could also be long enough to cause further damage to our already battered democratic institutions,” Hontivero said.
Kabataan Representative Sarah Elago believed De Castro’s appointment was part of President Rodrigo Duterte’s plan to consolidate power in all branches of government.
“For sure, De Castro’s very short term will serve the interests of the Duterte regime, as well as its current powerful allies – Arroyo, who has just gone back to power as House Speaker, and [Bongbong] Marcos, who is desperate to expedite the recount for the vice presidential votes and has Duterte’s support and trust,” Elago said.
Other lawmakers hailed De Castro’s appointment. (READ: The test of legacy for Chief Justice De Castro)
“She will do very well with her experience as a legal luminary for 45 years. [She is] highly bright, competent, and a woman of the law,” said Senator Richard Gordon.
Senator Gringo Honasan said De Castro’s appointment “introduces elements of stability, continuity, and predictability – not only to the judiciary but to our democracy.” (READ: New Chief Justice De Castro must prove ‘independence, impartiality’)
Ilocos Norte 1st District Representative Rodolfo Fariñas also hailed Duterte’s appointment of De Castro, citing her “sterling record of service in the judiciary.”
“It’s sad that a few people are denigrating such hallowed tradition by ridiculing the short tenure of CJ De Castro. The JBC gave her and Justice Peralta a unanimous vote of 6 in endorsing them to the President,” said Fariñas.
“I guess that if Justice [Antonio] Carpio did not decline his nomination, he would have been chief justice now. But he has until October 26, 2019, when CJ De Castro retires on October 8, . The President might also carry on the tradition,” he added.
Malacañang will release De Castro’s formal appointment papers on Tuesday, August 28. – with reports from Camille Elemia and Mara Cepeda/Rappler.com