MANILA, Philippines – Newly-retired elections commissioner Antonio Kho Jr. has been appointed justice of the Supreme Court at a young age of 55, completing the 15-person bench for now and the picture of a packed court that President Rodrigo Duterte will leave behind.
Supreme Court spokesperson Brian Keith Hosaka confirmed this on Wednesday, February 23. Hosaka said the Supreme Court received Kho’s appointment papers Wednesday afternoon.
Having just retired from Commission on Elections (Comelec) on February 2, one of Kho’s last decisions in the commission was concur in a 3-0 decision by the Second Division to junk the petition to cancel the certificate of candidacy (COC) of presidential front runner Ferdinand Marcos Jr.
This is on appeal at the Comelec en banc. When all the Marcos candidacy cases reach the Supreme Court soon enough, rules say that Kho should inhibit as he participated in deciding the appealed case.
Kho is Duterte’s fraternity brother whom he appointed to the Comelec from the Department of Justice (DOJ). Kho was a DOJ undersecretary under former secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II but left when Menardo Guevarra overhauled the leadership of the department.
Kho completes the bench for now, but Duterte has his last pick on May 15 when Senior Associate Justice Estela Perlas Bernabe retires. There is no midnight appointment ban in the judiciary.
When Duterte leaves the presidency, only Associate Justices Marvic Leonen and Benjamin Caguioa are not Duterte appointees.
Kho is another young appointee who will serve beyond the next president. But Kho’s appointment is a departure from Duterte’s noted habit of picking Court of Appeals or Sandiganbayan justices. Justice Midas Marquez’s appointment is still considered by some as an insider pick because he was the Court Administrator. For this post replacing the anti-terror law ponente Justice Rosmari Carandang, Kho beat Commission on Audit (COA) chairman Michael Aguinaldo, and shortlist mainstays Sandiganbayan Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang, Court of Appeals Justices Apolinario Bruselas, Ramon Cruz and Maria Filomena Singh.
Chief Justice Alexander Gesmundo retires November 2026, meaning the next president will appoint a chief justice.
The next president will only get to appoint four justices, barring resignation, early retirement, impeachment or quo warranto. They are Chief Justice Gesmundo, Associate Justices Amy Lazaro Javier (2028), Henri Jean Paul Inting (2027) and Mario Lopez (2027). The next president will also appoint a 5th if ever Bernabe’s replacement will retire within term.
Kho was Comelec commissioner from August 2018 until his mandatory retirement on February 2, 2022.
Kho hails from Zamboanga, and before his retirement, he was among the five Comelec en banc officials who hailed from Mindanao in the seven-member body. Kho ranked 10th in the bar exams in 1991, and immediately practiced law in the private sector from 1991 until he joined the Duterte government as a justice undersecretary in 2016.
Kho applied in the Supreme Court in August 2021, but he dropped out before he could go through the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) interview and went on to finish his term as Comelec commissioner. – With a report from Dwight De Leon/Rappler.com