Unexpected retirement opens seat in the Supreme Court

A new seat at the Supreme Court is up for grabs after an unexpected early retirement of a sitting justice.

The Supreme Court en banc on Tuesday, November 3, approved Justice Priscilla Baltazar Padilla's application for early retirement "due to physical disability," a source confirmed to Rappler. This will give President Rodrigo Duterte another chance to make a new appointment to the High Court.

Supreme Court Spokesperson Brian Keith Hosaka later confirmed it in an official statement, and said "no other details were provided by the Court."

Padilla, a former Court of Appeals (CA) justice, was appointed to the Supreme Court by Duterte in July. At 62 years old, she would have had 8 years to serve in the High Court.

There were no further details about Padilla's "physical disability."

During her Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) interview in May, retired judge Franklin Demonteverde inquired into Padilla's health because of a chest X-ray finding of atheromatous aorta, common among the elderly.

Padilla assured the JBC she was "certified to be in good health."

"So in short you have no problem insofar as the effective performance of your functions as a justice is concerned?" Demonteverde asked.

"None, your honor," Padilla answered back then.

Padilla's appointment was announced on July 16, but by end of August she was already on leave.

Padilla was not able to vote on the August decision of the Supreme Court that rendered moot embattled ABS-CBN's petition to void the cease and desist order of the National Telecommunications Commission or NTC.

Duterte to pick new justice

Duterte would have 90 days to fill this new vacancy. Whoever he will pick will be the President's 11th appointee to the Supreme Court, but his 16th overall, the 5 having also retired during his term. By the end of his term, Duterte would have appointed 13 of the 15 justices to the High Court.

In the last year, legal and political circles had been abuzz with Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra's possible application for the Supreme Court. Guevarra had been nominated twice, too, but he turned these down, saying he was needed more in the Department of Justice (DOJ).

Guevarra turned down his nomination last July, which would have been his last chance because of a new JBC age rule. This unexpected vacancy means that he would still be eligible to apply at his age of 66.

The new JBC rule says that for a department secretary, for example, like Guevarra, who could be contemplating application for the Supreme Court, he or she must be at most 67-and-a-half years old upon application, to be able to serve for the newly required two-and-a-half years.

The compulsory retirement age of justices is 70 years old. – Rappler.com

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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