Pity our President. After expending so much capital—political and otherwise—to remove Renato Corona, he is now in angst on who to replace him. And he’s got to be sure that the new chief justice is firmly under his thumb, or else that bloody, protracted fight would be for naught.
That disqualifies Antonio Carpio, the most senior associate justice in the Supreme Court, and therefore the most logical to succeed Corona. Why would Mr. Aquino appoint somebody who’s openly declared he won’t be the President’s stooge? The Liberal Party’s all-out rooting for Carpio to be chief justice—step one to get the high court to uphold Mar Roxas’ electoral protest—is already his kiss of death.
It’s cruel, though, for Mr. Aquino to have Mmes. Kim Henares and Leila de Lima fantasize that they could be chief justices. Being the President’s fiercest attack dogs and having been among those who testified against somebody they’ll replace aren’t exactly the published qualifications for the post.
The top tax collector as chief justice? A bureau director? Only in the Philippines, as that overused but appropriate cliché would put it. But why would Mr. Aquino make his shooting-range buddy chief justice, when she is the most feared official in a nation of tax evaders? No other Philippine president, not even Marcos, in fact managed to transform the top tax collector as his or her dreaded political enforcer. Why, she even accused Manny Pacquiao of not paying enough taxes, after the boxing hero didn’t vote to have Corona impeached.
The idea of being chief justice has rather comically gone to Henares’ head. She announced the other day: She’s got the edge over all chief justice bets. And that includes three other justices and, as well, Raul Pangalangan—my choice—who’s got a Harvard postgraduate law degree.
Why so? She says she became a victim of injustice when the Dutch bank ING fired her from her high-paying job there, which I suppose was because she advised it to pay our government as much taxes as possible. A most cruel injustice was also reportedly inflicted on her when a Makati court ordered her to return the ING’s BMW 318 after her dismissal.
An election lawyer as chief justice? That’s Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, who’s been most of her working life an election lawyer, of course unassisted in her work by her father, a Comelec bureaucrat who rose to become executive director and then commissioner.
But why would Aquino remove her from her post, when he will never find such an official who’s so willing to defy the law—even the Supreme Court—in order to comply with his wishes? De Lima together with Comelec head Sixto Brillantes will in fact be remembered in history as two bureaucrats who managed to put in jail a former President who presided over nine years of robust economic growth on the basis of the sole, dubious hearsay of a Mindanao massacre suspect, Norie Unas.
De Lima is probably practicing her smirk as she daydreams when, as chief justice, she convenes the high court to hear the disbarment case against her for insulting it and defying its orders. She needs to get back to reality: Aquino dare not cross Sen. Panfilo Lacson, which he’ll be doing if he makes her chief justice.
So if his two attack dogs can’t be chief justice, who can?
Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda is probably smarting that nobody mentions him as a candidate for the post, when he has sacrificed for Aquino even more than De Lima and Henares. After all, he teaches constitutional law, and is just a few years younger than Justice Lourdes Sereno, Aquino’s first appointee to the high court.
Lacierda should be consoled that Aquino probably enjoys the company of the only other bachelor in the Palace, that it will be unbearable for the President if he moves to Padre Faura.
My choice would be Florencio Abad, the President’s ideologue, and the whitest—morally—in Aquino’s NGO, the Black and White Movement. But he would never leave the post of budget secretary, the most powerful position in government, and the most lucrative, if its head opts to be just a bit grey.
Let’s face it. The best chief justice for Aquino would be none other than Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, the President’s principal alter ego. His loyalty to the President is unquestionable, even as he has managed not to appear—unlike Henares and De Lima—as Aquino’s Doberman. At least being the highest ranked Cabinet member would give some dignity to the now much demeaned chief justice post.
But really, as is better expressed in Filipino, “Bastusan na rin. Lubus-lubusin na nila.”
After all, the mainstream media and Aquino’s supporters are remarkably uninterested about this mysterious principle of three separate and independent branches of a republican government, that they wouldn’t mind Aquino’s “Little President” being chief justice. Aquino will even be courageously breaking tradition for the sake of government efficiency.
They can even hail Ochoa’s appointment as another demonstration of Aquino’s commitment to transparency, since he is not hiding the fact that he controls the Supreme Court. The daang matuwid would be cleared of obstructions like the annoying technicalities of the rule of law.
Ochoa could even serve as chief justice concurrent with his executive secretary post, since Malacañang is just a few minutes away from Padre Faura. If somebody claims this violates the Constitution, it would be the Supreme Court after all who would decide whether it does or doesn’t.
And after all, if a chief justice can be removed from office on an indubitably unimpeachable offense, his inaccurate SALN, anything can be justified