Questions for chief justice candidates

Purple S. Romero

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Senator Francis Pangilinan and former Senator Rene Saguisag enumerates possible questions that can be asked candidates for the chief justice post during public interview

GRILL 'EM. The JBC should ask hard-hitting questions to aspirants to the post of chief justice.

MANILA, Philippines – Independence, low conviction rate and transparency. These are just some of the issues that the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) should raise in its public interview with the candidates for chief justice, according to a former JBC member and a nominee for the highest position in the judiciary.

Sen Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan, a former representative of the Senate to the JBC, the body that vets nominees for the judiciary to the President, and lawyer Rene Saguisag, who recently declined his nomination for the post, suggested questions to the council that focus on the above issues and more.

Pangilinan asked his successor in the JBC, Sen Francis “Chiz” Escudero, to ask contenders the following during the public interview to be held in the third week of July:

1. How will you maintain your independence regardless of your relationship with the President or any of his political allies and/or critics?

2. What is your stand on the use of the JDF (Judiciary Development Fund) and on allegations regarding the lack of transparency in utilizing this fund?

3. Is the conviction rate of 16% in criminal cases acceptable to you? If not, what do you intend to do to raise conviction rates in the country comparable to that of Hong Kong, for example, which has a conviction rate of 79%?

4. How will you ensure that our judges and justices do not succumb to corruption?

5. What is your plan to fill up the massive vacancies in courts around our country?

6. The vacancy rate for judgeship positions is now pegged at 25%. Is this acceptable to you? If not, then what do you intend to do to address this problem?

7. The average case life in the first-level courts is six years. Is this not a clear violation of the constitutional right to a speedy trial? If you become Chief Justice, what do you intend to do to shorten the trial period? How do you intend to ensure that the average of six years is reduced considerably?

8. Do you think the JELACC (Judicial Executive Legislative Advisory and Consultative Council) should be convened to help address key problems of the justice system? How can the JELACC be an instrument for modernizing the judiciary?

9. Is it fair for the judiciary to be receiving 1% of the national budget? Would you have any proposals in regard to budgetary reforms for the justice system?

“Justice is a life-and-death issue on many fronts, we believe, and we therefore urge all those seeking the position of Chief Justice to seriously consider these questions and share their answers to the public, to declare their fitness for the position,” Pangilinan said in a June 28 letter to Escudero.

Saguisag also recommended questions on transparency with regards to the use of the JDF, which is one of the issues raised in the impeachment complaint against dismissed Chief Justice Renato Corona. He also wants the public to know if the candidates are willing to release their SALNs or statements of assets, liabilties and net worth, and sign a waiver on their dollar accounts — a challenge posed by Corona to other public officials when he faced the impeachment court in May.

Saguisag also raised questions related to controversial moves by the high court, like acting on the letters of Estelito Mendoza, arguably the highest-paid lawyer in the country in a labor case involving flag carrier Philippine Airlines (PAL). Mendoza is PAL’s legal counsel. The SC reversed its decision on a case favoring some 1,000 members of the Flight Attendants and Stewards Association of the Philippines over PAL after Mendoza wrote them in 2011.

Here are Saguisag’s other questions: 

1. Is there anything about your past or background that if known to the public would embarrass you, the JBC and the President?

2. Will you make available to the public, not only to litigant and lawyers directly concerned, your resolutions say on forum-shopping?

3. Have you ever applied for or availed yourself of another citizenship?

Only natural-born Filipino citizens can be members of the SC. In 2007, the JBC got into hot water after it recommended Sandiganbayan Justice Gregory Ong, who is not a natural-born Filipino citizen, to the SC. 

4. Why is there no decent courthouse in the nation’s capital? 

5. You have two members from Congress, unlike before, when you had one. Are you right and your predecessors wrong?

6. Will you ask any traveling justice to report on coming home, on why he traveled, at what cost, and on whose account, and how it promoted the justices’ only duty which is really to decide cases?

7. Who would you want shortlisted with you? If you are not nominated, which two others among the aspirants would you want shortlisted? 

8. Your views on justices socializing and appearing on TV? 

9. Will you continue the Justice on Wheels program? 

The program, wherein a “court” in a bus goes to different parts of the country to facilitate the resolution of cases, was introduced in 2004. 

10. Your take on increased filing and other fees?

11. Your take on abolishing the JBC? 

12. What if the President returns a list to the JBC, as Gloria Arroyo would, what do you think should we do?

Former President Gloria Arroyo returned the shortlist to the JBC in 2009, but the JBC, under then Chief Justice Reynato Puno, rebuffed her.

All eyes are on the JBC’s selection process after Corona, whom the council endorsed to Arroyo in 2010, was removed from his post for failing to declare P183 million in peso and bank deposits in his SALN. –

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