Judicial Appointments

Manila Bulletin, December 21, 2011 | Go to article overview

Judicial Appointments


(Editor's note: Filipino and American justices of our Supreme Court, between 1902 and November 15, 1935 [inauguration of the Commonwealth], were appointed by the US President "by and with the advice and consent" of the US Senate, as noted by the author.

MANILA, Philippines - In the heat of a long argument, judicial independence can be called a kind of shibboleth (a common saying or belief with little current meaning or truth). This slogan about the courts is inferred from the bare words of the Constitution, kind opinions of scholars, writers, and court decisions themselves.

Judges before and after

In the US, judges of higher courts started out as cronies of politicians, party leaders, or influence peddlers. They are supposed to be crowned with "halos" after sitting in their chambers.

Nominees to federal courts in the US find themselves at the mercy of glares from 100 senators. In 1991, Justice Clarence Thomas, an African-American nominated by President Bush, was confirmed by the Senate voting 52 to 48. Thomas had suffered months of uncertainty and anguish after being grilled by the Senate Committee on Justice. He faced a charge of sexual harassment filed by a member of his staff as judge of the Court of Appeals.

Padrino system

In the old days, before 1972, nominees of the President to the Philippine Supreme Court needed confirmation by a Commission of Appointments of 24 members of Congress. Nominees waited at the Senate gallery waving and smiling at their padrinos in the commission I saw one nominee to a Court of First Instance (CFI) in the Visayas embracing a commission member for winning his confirmation after a third deliberation.

There was no change in the system after the 1987 Constitution.

High grades not needed

Judges in this country are not appointed on the basis of their imposing credentials in a college of law, for passing the Bar exams with high marks, or a prosperous practice. They need only good assist from a governor, congressman, senator, city mayor, high administration officials, and other influential citizens. Judges don't forget friends, kin, padrinos, and other kind souls who help them wear the black judicial robe.

Second lobby

To earn a promotion from a lower court to a higher judicial office - like the Sandiganbayan, Court of Appeals, and the Supreme Court - another round of political balancing is needed. Promotion is not offered or given to magistrates who only wait and watch their colleagues running fast anxiously looking for more support from various quarters. …

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