President Rodrigo Duterte is a proud man who will not ask favor to anyone, his classmate and one of the aspirants to the Supreme Court said during the public interview conducted by members of the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC).


“I know the President. He is full of pride and does not ask favors,” Court of Appeals Associate Justice Noel Tijam told JBC members when asked about his independence considering he is Duterte’s classmate.


Tijam said he does not belong to any fraternity from San Beda Law School. He also cited his track record on decisions against polices of former presidents to prove his independence.


Candidates vying for the first two appointments of President Rodrigo Duterte in the Supreme Court were questioned about their independence considering that they have been nominated by officials from the other branches of government.


Public Attorneys Office Chief Persida Rueda-Acosta, who was nominated by Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri, was also asked about her independence.


Reports had it that Acosta  was prodded by the President to apply for the high court post.


“I have shown my independence in my opinions and my handling of cases. My basis is always the rule of law. Whoever recommended me to apply to the SC, that is their opinion and it will not be a reason for me to be biased in the future,” Acosta assured.


The candidates all maintained that they are not beholden to anybody but the Constitution.


They also cited their credibility, integrity and track record as their eligibilities for the SC post.


“My credibility cannot be bought, my credibility can be attested to by the people and by my bosses in the judiciary. What I can bring to the SC is my credibility and my experience as chief of the Public Attorney’s Office,” Acosta said.


Court of Appeals Associate Justice Japar Dimaampao said after six years, he has decided to accept nomination to the Supreme Court because he saw a “glimmer of hope” having a President from Mindanao and with a Moro blood. Dimaampao was nominated by retired Supreme Court Associate Justice Romeo Callejo and Governor Mujiv Hataman.


It has been more than 20 years since the high court has a Muslim Associate Justice.


Dimaampao, who was sworn in at the Court of Appeals in 2004, is the youngest magistrate to be appointed to the appeals court at the age of 40. He also holds the distinction of being the first and only Muslim senior state prosecutor, an expert in Shari’a Law, Commercial Law and an authority in Taxation Law. He is also a professional lecturer of the Department of Shari’a Law and Jurisprudence of the Philippine Judicial Academy of the high court.


“By God’s grace, if I would be appointed to the Court, I can help the Court with all humility in avoiding erroneous decisions on Shari’a which will eventually amount to injustices to Muslims in this country. I can be of help in preventing such possible influx of decisions which are not resolved in accordance with sharia and existing Islamic jurisprudence,” he told the JBC.


Meanwhile, advocacy group Supreme Court Appointments Watch under Hustisya Natin called on the public to keep an eye on the appointment of the next high court magistrate.


He said the selection process is critical considering that Duterte will be appointing at least 10 justices to the Supreme Court in the next three years of his administration.


“Now more than ever, our country demands an independent and transparent Supreme Court,” said Vincent Lazating of Transparency and Accountability Network and Hustisya Natin’s policy advocacy coordinator.


Atty. Marlon Manuel, of the Alternative Law Groups (ALG) and Hustisya Natin’s national coordinator, urged the public to be involved in choosing the members of the SC by giving the JBC information about the aspirants.


The group said it is important to guide the JBC in narrowing the candidates before submitting the list to Duterte.


Text by Tetch Torres-Tupas,, November 16, 2016