Thursday, January 15, 2009

Just how independent is the Philippine Supreme Court?

Potshots and brickbats rained when MalacaƱang's announced yesterday that it had chosen to appoint Sandiganbayan Presiding Justice Diosdado Peralta as the newest associate justice of the Supreme Court.

Peralta will take over the post left vacant by justice Ruben Reyes who retired Jan. 3 upon turning 70.

Accounts in daily broadsheets here in Manila point out that Peralta, along with fellow Sandiganbayan Justice Francisco Villaruz, got the least number of votes from the Judicial Bar Council (JBC). The JBC is an independent body mandated by the Constitution to go over the nominees for certain positions such as justices of the Supreme Court.

Court of Appeals Seventh Division senior member Associate Justice Martin Villarama Jr. got the most votes – seven from the eight-member JBC panel. Villarama was followed by Ateneo law school dean Cesar Villanueva and CA Second Division chair Portia Alino-Hormachuelos.

President Arroyo named Peralta presiding justice of the Sandiganbayan in March 2008 following his predecessor’s – De Castro – appointment to the SC.

Peralta and De Castro were both members of the three-man special division of the Sandiganbayan that convicted former President Joseph Estrada of plunder.

With a majority of members of the Supreme Court being appointees of Mrs. Arroyo, concerns have been raised over the institution’s independence.

This development comes just days after stories broke on an attempt to unseat Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato Puno.

Puno, at a recent public engagement, called for a “moral force” in the country to make its presence felt since the legal system that could solve the country’s problems.

I support this call for morality, not in the religious sense but in the sense of returning to values that will better guide us in determining what is truly right and what is truly wrong.

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