After 18 years in SC, Carpio declines final nomination for chief justice

MANILA, Philippines (5th UPDATE) – Supreme Court (SC) Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio has declined his automatic nomination to be the Philippines' next chief justice. 

It was the final nomination of Carpio for the top post in the judiciary, as he is set to retire on October 26.

"Yes, I am declining because there are only 8 days left from the vacancy to my compulsory retirement," Carpio told Rappler in a message on Tuesday, August 20.

Chief Justice Lucas Bersamin will retire on October 18.

Carpio will be retiring as the No. 2 in the SC, or the most senior after the chief. Justices on the bench are fondly called by their numbers based on the order of their entry to the High Court. 

Carpio, who has served the SC for 18 years or since 2001, was bypassed for the chief justice post 3 times, even though he was No. 2 at all times. (READ: Justice Antonio Carpio: Forever the No. 2)

Carpio has gone head-to-head with the Duterte administration on China's policies in the West Philippine Sea, which made him a subject of the President's rants on several occasions.

Since the Duterte presidency in 2016, Carpio voted in favor of the Duterte administration only twice – in the SC ruling that Congress need not convene to confirm the proclamation of martial law in Mindanao, and in the decision that declared the closure of Boracay constitutional. (READ: Who voted for Duterte in the Supreme Court?)

Carpio dealt a big blow to the Duterte government when he, as member-in-charge, got unanimous votes to compel the administration to make public tens of thousands of documents related to killings in the government's campaign against illegal drugs.

The first resolution of the Court was also strongly-worded: "The government's inclusion of these deaths among its other accomplishments may lead to the inference that these are state-sponsored killings.”

The main petition to declare the entire war on drugs policy as unconstitutional is still pending.

Rappler’s review of high-profile en banc decisions in the last 12 years showed that Carpio was tough on the executive and politicians.

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

On Tuesday morning, as he declined his last chief justice nomination, Carpio was still trading barbs with the Duterte government. He sent a message to reporters to "fact-check Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano" who said Malaysia and Vietnam occupy more geologic features than China in the West Philippine Sea.

Tuesday deadline

Tuesday is the deadline for appllications and to confirm nominations for chief justice. The Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) will vet the aspirants to replace Bersamin.

Associate Justice Marvic Leonen declined his nomination on Monday, saying, "I will be able to do what I do best for our people in my current position at this time."

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, a JBC member, said Associate Justice Benjamin Caguioa also declined his nomination.  

Guevarra also confirmed that Associate Justice Estela Perlas Bernabe accepted her nomination Tuesday morning, as well as Associate Justices Diosdado Peralta and Andres Reyes Jr. Reyes accepted his nomination from retired SC justice Jose Perez and retired CA justice Sesinando Villon.

Before the 4:30 pm deadline on Tuesday, Associate Justice Jose Reyes Jr, currently no. 10 on the bench, also applied. Guevarra said he applied on his own.

Carpio was still included in the automatically nominated 5 most senior justices even though his retirement comes only a week after Bersamin's retirement. The other 3 automatically nominated justices apart from Carpio and Leonen are PeraltaBernabe, and Caguioa.

Guevarra said that the council was unlikely to restore the usual procedure of conducting public interviews for all applicants for chief justice. The council removed this requirement for incumbent SC justices when they were vetting the replacements for retired chief justice Teresita Leonardo De Castro.

"It is unlikely that public interviews of applicants (who are already associate justices of the Supreme Court) for the chief justice position will be held. At best, the JBC will interview nominees/applicants in executive session," Guevarra said in a text message.

The JBC  will start screening applicants for the replacements of Carpio and Associate Justice Francis Jardeleza, retiring in September, on September 6, 9, 10, and 11. – 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.

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