You have heard it. Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato Puno would not add up any candidate to its short-list of Supreme Court Justice aspirants. This is a blatant usurpation of the appointing power which the constitution vests in the President and placed the error of such appointment to a group of persons who are not accountable to the people, the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC). The council was envisioned to broker the well-intentioned aspirants to the judiciary by going into the labyrinth of the judicial gauntlet as way of recruiting the cream of the legal profession.
The concept of screening judicial appointees through the JBC to ensure that only the good and the most fit are commissioned to serve is a myth. After 22 years of its existence, the JBC had only succeeded in recruiting the most inept and the most corrupt in the judiciary. You have only to look for the fund diversion of the Supreme Court which had been the subject of an impeachment in the House against its previous Chief, Hilario Davide, Jr., or the Meralco-GSIS row which resulted in a couple of heads rolling in the bastion that is supposed to be the stellar for dispensing justice, to find out that the JBC was an abject failure.
The inability of the JBC to address the very issue it was envisioned to perform argues for its abolition. Like a malignant tumor, it has to be excised from the body and rid its atrophied part from metastasizing. The good intention in recruiting only the wise and the honorable in the judiciary is not assured by putting it in the hands of people who by nature belongs to the same corrupt body politics in the approximation of a mob organization where enlistment of new members must be of the same culture and orientation of the very same people that recruited them. New members of the judiciary must symbolically kiss the hand of the Mafioso ring leader and pledge allegiance to the preservation of the organization’s culture of corruption. Senator Miriam Santiago had put it more succinctly when she refused to subject herself from this hand-kissing ritual known as “JBC job interview” and thereby forfeited her opportunity to become justice of the Supreme Court, an entity she curtly described, the “old boy’s club”.
If one examines the composition of the JBC, one would not fail to notice that it is a separate power enclave of the Supreme Court where the voice of the Chief Justice reigns supreme. The Chief’s latest pronouncement that no more candidates for the Supreme Court coming from the President will be added to its “short-list”, highlights this point. The JBC is a constitutional fiat which is anathema to constitutional government. The power to appoint justices and judges of inferior courts belongs exclusively to the President. Providing the President with a “short-list” from whom she can appoint a justice of the Supreme Court effectively short-circuited this power of appointment. The JBC arrogates a power never intended by the framers of the constitution.
Under the old set-up, the Commission on Appointment in Congress cannot provide the President a “short-list” from which the President can appoint a justice of the Supreme Court and judges of inferior courts. Congress is free to reject whoever is submitted by the President for confirmation but it is never allowed to determine which candidate the President must submit to Congress for confirmation.
And while Congress can put a monkey-wrench on the appointment of the President for justices and judges, such behavior is tolerable under the principle of “check and balance” and the concept of accountability enshrined in the constitution. Members of congress who are stubborn and unreasonable in putting partisan politics over the common good are directly responsible to the people comes election in the same way that the President is held accountable for appointment of corrupt government officials and for her own corruption. This concept of accountability is lost on the JBC because its members do not seek the mandate from the people during elections and yet it exercises a tremendous power that can even hold the President’s appointment power hostage by sheer arrogance. Make no mistake about it. No group of particular government functionaries enjoy moral superiority than the others. George Washington makes a wise counsel: “ the love for power, and the pronness to abuse it predominates in every human heart”.
The endemic corruption in the judiciary is never blamed on the JBC and if ever it is blamed for it, the people are powerless to tell its members to go and look for another job. If the people must remain sovereign, any contrivance in the constitution that seek to create a mini-branch of government that is outside the oversight of the people must be excised and expunged. There is little doubt that Cha-Cha proponents can wear their moral armor in splendid color fighting for the abolition of the JBC in the constitution.
The greatest constitutional government of all times, the United States of America, has not adopted in her constitution a parallel outfit as the JBC because she remains faithful to the concept of the Republican form of government where check and balance is in place and accountability of government officials is demandable by the sovereign people. Under the submission that the JBC is a power-chute of the Supreme Court which is outside the sovereign will, Thomas Jefferson’s observation about the Supreme Court acquires a new dimension:
“To consider the judges as the ultimate arbiters of all constitutional questions is a very dangerous doctrine indeed, and one which would place us under the despotism of an oligarchy. Our judges are as honest as other men, and not more so. They have, with others, the same passions for party, for power, and the privilege of their corps. Their maxim is “boni judicis est ainpliare jurisdictionem,” and their power the more dangerous as they are in once for life . The constitution has erected no such single tribunal, knowing that to whatever hands confided, with the corruptions of time and party, its members would become despots”.