Justice Antonio Carpio: Forever the No. 2

Lian Buan
Justice Antonio Carpio: Forever the No. 2
Chief Justice Lucas Bersamin says he's confident that his appointment will not strain relationships in the High Court

MANILA, Philippines – This was his last chance to be the Chief Justice and he was next in line, yet Antonio Carpio spent Wednesday, November 28, administering the oath of the justice who was chosen over him – Chief Justice Lucas Bersamin.

This would be the 3rd time he was bypassed for the top position even though on all times he was the No. 2, or the most senior after the chief – as justices on the Bench are fondly called by their numbers in order of their entry to the High Court.

After posting the photo of Carpio and Bersamin Wednesday afternoon, Associate Justice Marvic Leonen – currently No. 6 – tweeted: “Justice Antonio T. Carpio, Senior Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, is an exemplary statesperson.”

Bersamin, however, refused to compare himself to Carpio.

“(Duterte) appointed me, that should be the end of it. I don’t think it will be fair to my colleagues to make a judgment in comparing them to me, I may lack more qualifications than they have, but it’s still up to the appointing power to exercise the discretion to choose among us who were nominated,” said the new Chief Justice.


Seniority 

Seniority was not always followed in the appointments of Chief Justice, but President Rodrigo Duterte had once said it would be his main basis for his appointments in the High Court. Duterte said this when he defended the appointment of Teresita Leonardo de Castro who only had less than two months to serve.

Malacañang had its reasons – while Bersamin was only the 3rd most senior in the Supreme Court, he was the most senior “in terms of services rendered under the Judicial Branch in various capacities.”

Bersamin started out in the judiciary in 1986 as a trial court judge, while Carpio entered the judiciary only in 2001 when he was appointed to the Supreme Court. Carpio was mostly a private lawyer before that as founder of the influential Carpio Villaraza, or “The Firm,” after which he served as chief presidential legal counsel of then-president Fidel V. Ramos. 

By Malacañang’s definition, Carpio, who is the only justice with the title Senior Associate Justice, is no longer No. 2 but actually a junior justice, the most junior on the short list.

“I think that I have served longest in the judiciary, I leave that to the President to make a decision what he meant by giving priority or preference to seniority,” Bersamin said.

Bersamin said he is confident that this issue will not put a strain on the justices’ relationships, unlike what happened during the chief justiceship of Maria Lourdes Sereno.

“They love me, I think I love them also,” Bersamin said, adding that “there is no problem with me being accepted by my colleagues.”

Expected?

Perhaps this doesn’t come as a surprise to those in legal circles, as Carpio has been relentless in opposing Duterte’s policies on China. The week before the appointment, Carpio spoke in two fora, one of them even inside the lower chamber, to talk more against the powerful nation that is increasingly developing cozy ties with Duterte.

“If it becomes a factor, I cannot begrudge him (Duterte) for that. That’s part of his decision process. But I also cannot change my position because we have to defend our sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea. That’s the duty of a Filipino,” Carpio told GMA News on Saturday, November 24. 

Carpio has never once voted in favor of cases of interest to Duterte.

Rappler’s review of the 34 most high-profile en banc decisions in the last 12 years shows that Carpio was tough on the executive and politicians, unlike Bersamin.

Carpio also voted against former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo – the one who appointed him – on 3 key cases: Arroyo’s bid to extend her term, attempt to travel abroad, and acquittal from plunder.

The voting record of Carpio and Bersamin put them on opposite ends of the Bench, but the new Chief Justice said he can assure the public that collegiality will still reign over the Supreme Court despite the differences.

“Ang samahan po namin ay napakaganda. Kung paano po kami mag-interact kayo po ay magtataka kung bakit nagkaroon ng isyu noong mga nakaraang taon (We have a very good working relationship. How we interact with each other will make you wonder why there were issues in the past years),” said Bersamin.

Bersamin will be Chief Justice until October 2019 at a time where the High Court is tackling the constitutionality of the war on drugs, the withdrawal of the Philippines from the International Criminal Court, and the vice presidential electoral protest involving Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr and Vice President Leni Robredo.

Bersamin and Carpio are both retiring in October 2019, which gives the Chief Justice less than a year to fulfil his reforms in the judiciary, and Carpio to show his worth to the Filipino people as the Supreme Court’s forever No. 2. – Rappler.com 

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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 lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.