[PHOTO -Waiting to be called. Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio waits for a call to be interviewed by the Judicial and Bar Council. DANNY PATA]

MANILA, JULY 27, 2012 (BULLETIN) By LEONARD D. POSTRADO - Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio on Thursday denied conniving with President Benigno S. Aquino III to oust Chief Magistrate Renato C. Corona as he faced the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) screening for the top Supreme Court (SC) post.

Carpio, who was grilled by the seven-man JBC panel for almost two hours, said he never conspired with Aquino and Transportation and Communications Secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas II in unseating Corona as earlier insinuated by the former SC chief.

“All these accusations will be exposed as false because I know they are not true,” said Carpio when asked by Iloilo Rep. and JBC member Niel Tupas Jr. if he had an agreement with the President to impeach Corona.

“I never talked to these people. In fact, what they are saying is that I am not close to the President; that is why I will never be appointed. How can I convince 188 congressmen to sign the impeachment?” Carpio said.

Turning the tables on Tupas, the magistrate said: “You would know I’m not part of scheming because I never talked to you.”

Carpio indirectly admitted that the impeachment trial has caused a rift between him and Corona.

Responding to a question sent via Twitter on whether or not he can still be friends with the former Chief Justice, Carpio said: “Why not? We can always forget and forgive.”

Asked by Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta if he wants to see his “kumpare,” Carpio said the SC had invited Corona to attend the inauguration of the Angeles City Hall of Justice last month, but his “kumpare” did not come.

It was recalled that at the beginning of his impeachment trial last January, Corona hinted that Carpio was allegedly eyeing his post.

In front of his supporters, Corona claimed that he was a “roadblock to three people” who wanted him out as Chief Justice.

He claimed that the first person wanted his ouster to stop the distribution of the Hacienda Luisita to landless farmers in Tarlac and that the second person he was referring to was the person “who really wants to be vice president but lost in the election in 2010.”

Finally, Corona said he was opposed to a person whose ambition was to become Chief Justice.

Two months later in an interview in GMA7’s “Unang Hirit,” Corona directly accused Carpio of being part of a plot to oust him.

“Hindi mo maaalis sa akin na magduda kasi matagal na niya (Carpio) gusto maging chief justice. Ang alam ko mga partner sa law office niya; sila ang gumagalaw (You can’t blame me for my suspicions, because he [Carpio] has long wanted to be Chief Justice. What I know is his partners in his law office are the ones moving),” Corona said.

Asked whether he would have resigned from the Supreme Court if he was in Corona’s shoes, Carpio said he would have quit instead of going through an impeachment trial.

“If I misdeclared my SALN [Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net worth] to that extent, then I would have resigned right away,” he said.

If there were good things that came out as a result of Corona’s impeachment, the acting Chief Justice thinks that the problems in the Judiciary that had been neglected were now put in the spotlight.

“The impeachment was directed at a particular justice. But, I don’t deny that it has brought out problems about the Judiciary, and we have to address them. Corona trial brought the Judiciary’s problems to the fore,” Carpio pointed out.

Given the chance to become the leader of the Judiciary, the most senior High Court official told the JBC that he will solve the problem of clogged dockets by training mediators and judges and simplifying rules in hearing and resolving cases.

“Through the simplified rules, we minimized motions to postpone and other dilatory tactics. It is time we expand it to all civil cases,” Carpio said.

“I would like the court to make the Judiciary fair, honest, efficient. That would address issue of clogged dockets, corruption, fairness,” he said.

He also believes training judges in using computers and mediators would help improve the services of the Supreme Court.

“Computer literacy, like using word processor, is really important. Let us train judges to use word processors, it is essential. We have created a digital library that contains all laws of the Supreme Court, rules and regulations that are on file, etc. Let us train everyone how to use a computer,” he said.

Carpio said the device will not only connect judges to the e-Library but it will also allow the courts nationwide to upload the court’s monthly reports on pending cases to the Office of the Court Administrator Section of the Supreme Court Website.

He added that the case management system, which was pilot-tested in the Court of Appeals, will be tried in several courts in Metro Manila “once we are happy, we will distribute the system to all courts.”

With the case management system, Carpio said, the Court of Appeals was able to comply with the directive that all cases submitted for resolution must be resolved within one year.

By being the most senior among the justices, Carpio is an automatic nominee for the post but the President hinted recently that appointing an outsider to lead the Judiciary was not far from his mind.

While he respects the prerogative of the President in appointing the next Chief Justice, Carpio said it would demoralize the court if an outsider is appointed.

“I will not deny that [appointing an outsider] will be bad for the morale [of the insiders],” Carpio said. “We have to follow the Constitution and under the Constitution, the President has the prerogative to appoint anyone from the list submitted by the Judicial and Bar Council,” he added.

But he added there has been a seniority tradition not only with the Supreme Court but with the Court of Appeals, Sandiganbayan, and Court of Tax Appeals.

“It encourages the incumbent in the appellate courts to look forward to the day that they will be senior,” Carpio said.

Carpio likened the situation when the President appoints a colonel as Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

“The President can appoint anybody from rank of colonel up but can you command if colonel is appointed although the President has the prerogative, wisdom and all,” Carpio said.

Carpio added it is not necessary that an outsider should be appointed to reform the Judiciary.

“You have impeached the Chief Justice but it does not mean you have impeached the entire court, there is no guilt by association,” Carpio said.

The JBC, which started holding public interviews last Tuesday, was tasked to find the replacement of Corona. Aside from Carpio, those who were interviewed yesterday were University of the East law dean Amado D. Valdez, acting Chief Justice Antonio T. Carpio, SC Justice Teresita J. Leonardo De Castro, and former Ateneo law dean Cesar L. Villanueva.

At the start of the third-day of the JBC interview, tensions flared between Valdez and Supreme Court Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta when the nominee argued with the JBC chairman over using “moral grounds” as criteria in court decisions.

In discussing morality, Valdez cited the controversial Supreme Court-issued temporary restraining order that could have allowed former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to leave the Philippines amid a string of charges.

“A judge is always confronted with a moral choice when he makes a moral decision... put that in the situation of the Chief Justice. Do you have to order the TRO or not? That’s just not a legal question. That is a moral question that has something to do with responsibility and accountability,” he said.

This prompted Peralta, who voted for the issuance of the TRO, to ask if Valdez is advocating a change in the rules for issuing TROs.

If a judge uses moral grounds, he argued that the judge will always grant the TRO since he will feel sorry for the family who will lose their house even if they are squatters.

“Moral choice is not an element. Mabigat ang moral choice. Kawawa naman ang mga judges,” he said.

To which Valdez snapped: “That is why you need to use reason. The moral ingredient must be coupled with reason. Ang sabi ko – you have to balance things.”

From the issue of morality, the argument of Valdez and Peralta shifted to the nominee’s view that the collection of court fees is unconstitutional. For Valdez, the high court fees deprive the poor access to the courts and justice.

But Peralta countered Valdez’ claims and stressed that the collection of court fees is allowed in the Constitution. He was also quick to note that court fees are used for both the Judiciary Development Fund (JDF) and the Special Allowance for Judges and Justices (SAJJ).

Valdez then revised his proposal and said he does not advocate for the abolition of court fees.

He also pushed for the issuance of Court IDs, which would be used to raise funds for the Judiciary.

The JBC chairman also disagreed with Valdez’s proposal to make the ranks of regional trial court and metropolitan trial court judges equal to that of justices in the Court of Appeals (CA).

“If you do that, they will ask for benefits equal to the CA,” Peralta said.

Valdez, however, said the suggestion is just a proposal.

Meanwhile, Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo de Castro thinks that the next SC chief should do more than just prioritizing the de-clogging of dockets.

De Castro said “improving case adjudication should be a main priority. Congestion in dockets is already a problem in the ’70s.”

“I am committed to pursue reforms in the Judiciary, including access to justice, enhancing institutional integrity,” she added.

Some of her proposals include face-to-face discussion with judges, court officials on ground that will contribute in helping solve problems in the Judiciary.

“The court administrator should spend time on the ground to know the problems of the court,” she added.

Clogging dockets, slow dispensation of justice, De Castro said is what caused the Judiciary’s trust and confidence to fall. —with a report from Rey G. Panaligan

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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