PNoy: ‘Outsider’ CJ distinct possibility
The President says tradition has not always been good for the country, citing the tradition of secrecy practiced by the Supreme Court itself

MANILA, Philippines – President Aquino is seriously considering appointing an “outsider” as the country’s next chief justice, going against the tradition of choosing the most senior among incumbent justices of the Supreme Court.

While it is “a good consideration,” Aquino said “tradition” is what exempted justices from disclosing their Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) to the public — a contentious issue in the recently concluded impeachment trial of deposed chief justice Renato Corona.

Huwag nating kalimutan na isa nga sa issue doon sa trial na impeachment ay ‘yong SALN na napupunta sa locked filing cabinet, at marami po doon ay pinatuloy ‘yong resolusyon na mula 1989 or thereabouts,” Aquino told reporters on the sidelines of the First Philippine River Summit in Iloilo City on Friday, June 1. (Let’s not forget, one of the issues in the trial was the justices’ SALNs, which were kept in a locked filing cabinet, away from the public. Many of those in the SC have maintained that resolution of non-disclosure since 1989.)

So itatanong ko lang ho para bang pinatuloy ‘yong sistema at mas marapat ba dahil lang sa tradition na kunin mula doon sa hanay ng mga nagpanatili ng sistemang palagay natin ay salungat sa sinasabi ng Saligang Batas na kailangan mong ipakita sa publiko,” he added. (So may I just ask, is it right to choose by tradition even if the candidates are the ones who upheld that system against the Constitution?)

Aquino reiterated he will not limit his choice to the remaining 14 members of the Supreme Court. He has 90 days to appoint the replacement of Corona from May 29, the day the latter was unseated by the Senate sitting as an impeachment court.

“There are no limits… There is a very distinct possibility the chief justice can come from the outside or can come from within,” the President said. “[What’s important is the] efficiency of the institution and serving and addressing our people’s need.”

The Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) will convene on Monday, June 4, to begin the process of selecting the replacement of Corona, who was convicted of violating the Constitution and betraying public trust for failing to fully disclose his wealth in his SALN.

Justice Antonio Carpio, Corona’s nemesis in the SC, assumed the post in an acting capacity. The 62-year-old Carpio, the most senior among justices, is mandated by law to lead the the Supreme Court when the chief justice is “unavailable, indisposed, sick, removed or has resigned,” the Palace earlier said.

If Aquino goes by tradition, Carpio will be the next chief justice.

However, sources disclosed that key allies of the President have been lobbying against Carpio due to the latter’s association with The Firm, which he co-founded with Pancho Villaraza and Avelino Cruz Jr. The Firm played a key role in the Ramos and Arroyo administrations.

Carpio is also a cousin of Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, who earlier testified about Corona’s peso and dollar accounts in his trial. Morales was accused to have been a part of an alleged conspiracy orchestrated by Aquino to remove Corona from the High Tribunal.

Suggestions to appoint an outsider then poured in. At least two names outside the Supreme Court have been floated as Corona’s possible successor: Sen Franklin Drilon and Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) Commissioner Kim Henares.

Henares open to being CJ?

Both Drilon and Henares were quick to dismiss their possible nominations. Drilon said he was “not interested” and would like to continue serving as senator. Henares, for her part, said the reports were “just rumors.” “I have work to do in BIR,” she previously said.

However, Henares sang a different tune on the matter in a finance press briefing on Friday. “Let’s cross the bridge when we get there,” she told reporters.

Henares was joined in the briefing by Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, who said he would be honored to nominate the BIR chief to the post “if she’s interested.”

“But I’m sure others with more knowledge on law would nominate her. I have such high regard for her and given the opportunity, she’ll do a great job,” stressed Purisima.

SC-BOUND? Tax chief Kim Jacinto-Henares takes witness stand at impeachment trial of former Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona. AFP photo

Henares, an accountant and lawyer, was also a witness in Corona’s impeachment trial. She testified that Corona did not file income tax returns from 2002 to 2010. She also testified that Corona’s wife acquired an P11-million property in the gated La Vista village in 2003 despite having no reported source of income.

Henares is a key figure in the Aquino government’s efforts to improve revenue collections through an ongoing name-and-shame campaign against tax evaders. –