STANDARD EDITORIAL: THE CHOSEN ONE

MANILA, AUGUST 27, 2012 (MANILA STANDARD) By Manila Standard Today - There was a whiff of dishonesty when President Benigno Aquino III said he was dissatisfied with the choices he received for chief justice earlier this month.

At the time, Mr. Aquino took the Judicial and Bar Council to task for disqualifying his Justice secretary, presumably his favored candidate, because there were pending disbarment cases filed against her.

While the move was clearly in keeping with the council’s rules, Mr. Aquino characterized that as being unfair because, he said, other similarly situated nominees were still considered.

In doing so, the President might have overlooked the council’s explanation that the cases against the other candidates had either been dismissed already or in a stage where no prima facie evidence had yet been established.

Mr. Aquino then sullenly conceded that he had no choice but to appoint a chief justice from the list that had been given him because that was what the Constitution required.

The almost truculent tone was in sharp contrast to the glowing commendations that the Palace showered on Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno when it announced her appointment on Friday.

The President, the Palace said, was confident that the new chief justice would be able to reform the Judiciary and, given her relative youth, would have more than enough time―up to 18 years in office—to see those reforms take root.

Was the President truly dissatisfied with the list of nominees and was his final choice simply making the best of a bad situation?

Or was he merely putting on a show to hide the deep satisfaction he derived from being able to replace an uncooperative chief justice with someone who was less troublesome?

The answer lies in a Palace statement made as early as December 2011, even before the Corona impeachment trial had begun.

Shortly after engineering Corona’s impeachment in the House of Representatives, the President ordered his legal staff to shop around for replacements.

At the time, a spokesman said the next chief justice that President Aquino wanted “should be like Associate Justice Sereno,” who had issued a dissenting opinion on the court’s decision to allow his political enemy, former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, to seek medical treatment abroad.

Notwithstanding his complaints about the unfairness of the selection process, it is apparent that the President got the chief justice he wanted all along.

The new chief justice, after all, was Mr. Aquino’s own first appointment to the high court and she, in turn, had voted several times in his favor.

The most telling of those instances was her dissenting opinion on how much the President’s family should be compensated for a sugar plantation that should have been turned over to farmers decades ago under the agrarian reform program.

Mr. Aquino might portray the new chief justice as someone who was in tune with his reform agenda, but there are others who might see her track record to date as a sign of malleability and a lack of independence.

Let us hope she proves them all wrong.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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