MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Before they are included in the short list to be submitted to President Rodrigo Duterte, Supreme Court (SC) associate justice aspirants have to face the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC).
On Wednesday, November 16, seven of the 14 applicants from different legal backgrounds were relentlessly grilled as part of the JBC selection process that seeks to choose the best candidate to take over the post of Associate Justice Jose Perez, who will reach the mandatory retirement age of 70 on December 14.
The exhaustive process already became evident early in the morning of November 16 when JBC executive committee chairperson Angelina Sandoval-Gutierrez pressed chief public attorney Persida Rueda-Acosta about landmark Supreme Court cases, which she admitted to not having read.
Acosta told Gutierrez she had read about the SC decision on the controversial Marcos burial only in the news. Gutierrez then told Acosta that she should have read more, given that she was applying for an SC position.
Gutierrez used a similar approach to Sandiganbayan Justice Samuel Martires whom she asked about the acquittal of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Martires said he would have concurred with the Supreme Court's decision but admitted he had not read it in its entirety.
Gutierrez admonished him, "Therefore you cannot analyze the evidence before us now," also adding, "You read it first before you conclude you are concurring."
The Sandiganbayan justice said it has always been his belief that Marcos was "not actually ousted by the Filipino people but [he] opted to leave Malacañang and go to Hawaii just to…prevent any untoward incident that may happen in EDSA." Gutierrez retorted, "You are changing history."
The JBC chairperson has shown mastery of key SC decisions, along with dissenting and concurring opinions of the High Court magistrates. But who exactly is she, who has been relentless in extracting answers from the SC Justice aspirants?
Passionate, lucid, fearless decisions
Angelina Sandoval-Gutierrez was appointed the 147th SC Associate Justice in 2000 by then president Joseph Ejercito Estrada. She retired in 2008.
In 2014, she became a member of the JBC representing Retired Justices of the SC, replacing SC associate justice Regino Hermosisima.
According to her profile at the JBC website, decisions penned by Gutierrez as member of the High Court were often “written with passion, lucidity, and fearlessness.”
One of these prominent cases is Randolf S. David vs President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo where “warrantless arrests of oppositionists and the imposition of standards on the media” were ruled unconstitutional by the SC.
In her decision, she wrote that “perhaps, the vital lesson that we must learn from the theorists who studied the various competing political philosophies is that, it is possible to grant government the authority to cope with crises without surrendering the two vital principles of constitutionalism: the maintenance of legal limits to arbitrary power, and political responsibility of the government to the governed.”
Even if she was already retired, Gutierrez still worked as she was invited in 2014 to probe allegations that Sandiganbayan Justice Gregory Ong might have compromised the integrity of the judiciary through his personal ties with pork barrel mastermind Janet Napoles.
She recommended the dismissal of Ong for “serious transgressions” that have "impaired” the image of the judiciary "to which he owes the duty of loyalty and obligation to keep it at all times above suspicion and worth of the people’s trust.”
More than 4 decades in government service
Prior to her appointment, Gutierrez’ work was mainly in government. According to her profile, she engaged in the private practice of law for two years only and served the government for 45.
Her first foray into government was when she served as legal aide II in the National Bureau of Investigation from 1963 to 1965. She proceeded to become legal researcher from 1965 to 1968, and judicial supervisor in the justice department from 1968 to 1973.
From 1973 to 1983, she was a judicial assistant and attorney in the Supreme Court. In 1983, Gutierrez was appointed judge of Branch 19 of the Metropolitan Trial Court of Manila before taking over Regional Trial Court Branch 37 in 1986.
In 1991, she was appointed to the Court of Appeals before being appointed to the SC in 2000 by Estrada.
But the magistrate, often described as very passionate, did not consider law her first love.
According to a report by the UST Varsitarian, the official student publication of her alma mater, Gutierrez initially wanted to obtain a Bachelor of Music in piano at St Bridget’s College and aspired “to give a recital accompanied by a full orchestra."
Her music dream was cut short when her father encouraged her to enter law school.
“During our time, children were obedient. Being a good daughter that I am, I obeyed my father, took up law and left my music so that I could study in UST,” she told the Varsitarian.
Gutierrez, the first UST alumna to earn a spot in the SC, is now 78 years old. Yet based on how she has conducted herself in the public interviews of those aspiring to follow her footsteps, the importance of intelligence, wit, and integrity that come with the associate justice position are now pronounced more than ever. – Rappler.com
Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and also hosts the weekly podcast Newsbreak: Beyond the Stories. She joined Rappler in 2014 after obtaining her journalism degree from the University of the Philippines.