Carpio: I chose to respect Charter at the expense of CJ post
'In fact what they're saying is I'm not close to the President...and I won't be appointed," says Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio

MANILA, Philippines – Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio faced the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) Thursday, July 26, and said his edge over an outsider is his knowledge and understanding of the reforms needed in the judiciary.

Carpio also addressed questions related to the law firm he co-founded, the CVC Law, and how he can assure the public that, if appointed chief justice, the firm would not again enjoy the kind of power that it enjoyed in the past.

The CVC law helped in the presidential campaigns and administrations of two presidents – Fidel Ramos and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Carpio served as Ramos’ presidential legal counsel and was named to the SC by Mrs Arroyo in 2001.

On the bench, Carpio voted against both presidents, however. He cited in particular the people’s initiative to amend the Constitution under the Arroyo administration (2006) that pushed for a parliamentary form of government, which he ruled against.

Carpio also publicly admitted for the first time that Ramos had wanted to push for Charter change during his term, and that as his legal counsel he opposed it. “I also opposed [the Charter-change campaign of] Ramos. The Constitution should not be amended for the sake of Ramos.”

Under Arroyo, he maintained the same opposition to an apparently rushed Charter-change campaign. “If i wanted to be chief justice then, I could have voted for the Cha-cha (Charter change). That was a turning point in our history. We could have become a parliamentary form. I’m not looking at this for myself. I have so much respect for the Constitution.”

If the Constitution has to be amended, it has to be done properly, according to Carpio. If it is through people’s initiative, the people who signed a petition for Charter change should have first read the provisions that the campaign was seeking to amend. This was not the case in the people’s initiative under Arroyo, he said.

Martial law

“I was in law school during martial law,” when the Constitution ceased to take effect, Carpio recalled. “I questioned whether I should still be a lawyer. And thats why I persevered [to protect the Constitution].”

Asked about his ties to his law firm, Carpio said: “I have inhibited in all the cases of my former law office. I continue to inhibit.” Carpio said he has never lobbied with any of the justices. “You can ask any of them. I don’t even visit them in their chambers. I have never visited the chamber of Justice [Diosdado] Peralta.” Peralta is the presiding officer of the JBC.

Critics have accused Carpio and the CVC law of influence peddling and cutting deals within the judiciary, especially during the Ramos and Arroyo governments, thus the tag name “The Firm,” in reference to a John Grisham novel about a power-tripping, dishonest law firm.

JBC member and Iloilo Rep Niel Tupas Jr asked Carpio about the impeachment trial of dismissed Chief Justice Renato Corona and his silence over allegations that he was part of the plot to remove him from office.

“I maintained my silence for several reasons. There were pending cases on the impeachment. I take a long-term view of these things. All these accusations will be exposed as false because I know they’re not true,” Carpio said. “I was accused as one of those who schemed… that I was scheming with President Aquino and Secretary Mar Roxas. I never talked to these people.”

Not PNoy’s choice

Then the Acting Chief Justice dropped two lines that made the audience laugh. “In fact what they’re saying is I’m not close to the President [and that’s why] I won’t be appointed.”

While he is the most senior on the bench, Carpio is not the favored choice of President Aquino largely on account of his links to the CVC law firm, according to officials close to the President. The President’s reported choice is Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, who faced the JBC last July 24.

Carpio acknowledged the President’s prerogative to appoint the next chief justice. But he also conceded that the appointment of an outsider will be “bad for [the judiciary’s] morale.” The tradition of appointing an incumbent justice as chief justice was only broken once, during the Japanese occupation, he said.

He said the SC should not be made to suffer for the wrongdoing of one man, referring to the dismissed Corona. “Is it necessary to appoint an outsider to reform the judiciary? I don’t think it is necessary. You have impeached the chief justice. You have not impeached the rest of the Court.”

Carpio took exception to a question about the SC being an old boys’ club. “We are not a club. We have heated discussions. When it comes to judicial decisions we fight very hard for our positions. If we look friendly it’s because we have no choice.”

Fair, honest, efficient

If appointed chief justice, Carpio said he would like to be remembered as someone who made the judiciary “fair, honest and efficient.”

Like Associate Justice Roberto Abad, a fellow nominee, Carpio shared the view that the biggest problem in the judiciary now is clogged dockets. He cited the policies he has implemented to de-clog the courts and simplify trial procedures.

But unlike Abad, he said he was “not prepared to go to [the] extent” of calling the Court a “wounded court” after Corona’s impeachment.

If he mis-declared his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth to the extent that Corona did, ” I will resign right away.” Asked if he and Corona can be friends again (both were friends under the Ramos administration), Carpio said: “Why not? We can always forget and forgive.”

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