President Duterte has been asked to maintain the independence of the Supreme Court to where he would be able to appoint 12 justices within his term.


The Hustisya Natin, alliance of SC Appointments Watch, Alternative Law Groups and Transparency and Accountability Network appealed to the Chief Executive to appoint independent magistrates to the high court to ensure balance of power between the co-equal branch of government.


Vincent Lazatin of TAN and lawyer Marlon Manuel of ALG also asked the public to closely monitor and participate in the selection process for the SC appointments by the Judicial and Bar Council, which already started for the first two appointments of Duterte in the high tribunal after the retirements of Associate Justice Jose Perez and Arturo Brion next month.


According to the judicial watchdogs, the Duterte appointments may be considered very crucial as they would constitute a clear majority in the high court.


Lazatin believes that an independent judiciary is more needed now that “the President appears to be pushing the limits of the executive powers and only the Supreme Court can provide a balance.”


Manuel shared  the sentiments of Lazatin  even as he called on the public to participate in the JBC selection processes.


“The JBC screening is very important and crucial in the selection process. These appointments under the new administration can potentially affect the independence of the Supreme Court,” he stressed.


“That’s why it’s important that the public will participate in the process by sending information, support or opposition on the nominations to the JBC,” the lawyer added.


Meanwhile, a watchdog group on judicial appointments has called for public participation in the JBC selection process and urged appointment of independent SC justices by President Duterte who gets to appoint at least 10 justices in his term.


The Hustisya Natin led by lawyer Marlon Manuel of Alternative Law Groups and Vincent Lazatin of the Transparency and Accountability Network urged the public to closely monitor the selection process, which has become more transparent throughout the years.


The Constitution requires a candidate for the position of associate justice of the SC to be a natural born citizen, at least 40 years of age, and with 15 years or more of experience as a judge of a lower court or engaged in the practice of law in the country.


The magistrate must also be “a person of proven competence, integrity, probity, and independence.”


President Duterte is expected to appoint at least 10 justices in SC during his six-year term.


There will be two more vacancies during the election period after his term. Per SC ruling, the President may appoint SC justices during the election period since such positions are exempted from the midnight appointments ban.


The JBC is set to deliberate on the 17 nominees and applicants for the two SC posts to be vacated by the retirement of Perez and Brion on Dec.14 and 29, respectively.


Ten of them faced the JBC in public interviews last Nov.16 and 17—Seven of those vying for Perez’ post—Public Attorney’s Office chief Persida Rueda-Acosta, Centro Escolar University law assistant dean Rita Linda Ventura-Jimeno, Davao Regional Trial Court Judge Rowena Apao-Adlawan, Court of Appeals Justices Japar Dimaampao, Noel Tijam and Amy Lazaro-Javier, CA Mindanao Executive Justice Romulo Borja, Sandiganbayan Justice Samuel Martires, Department of Justice chief state counsel Ricardo Paras III and lawyer Joseph San Pedro.


The seven other candidates were no longer  interviewed because of their previous interviews over the past year.


They are CA Presiding Justice Andres Reyes Jr. and CA Justices Apolinario Bruselas Jr., Rosmari Carandang, Stephen Cruz and Jose Reyes Jr., Quezon City Judge Reynaldo Daway and Sandiganbayan Justice Alex Quiroz.


The JBC chaired by Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno is set to vote on a shortlist for the two vacancies on Friday, December 2.


Text by Rey E. Requejo, Manila Standard, November 27, 2016