Cablegate: Search for New Supreme Court Chief Justice Narrows

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.





E.O. 12958: N/A


B. MANILA 5012

1. (U) This message is Sensitive But Unclassified -- Please
handle accordingly.

2. (SBU) Summary: The GRP's Judicial and Bar Council has
submitted to President Arroyo its "short list" -- consisting
of the three most senior associate justices -- to succeed
current Supreme Court Chief Justice Hilario Davide who is
retiring on December 20. President Arroyo must appoint a
successor from the list within 90 days of Davide's
retirement. A USG-funded project is underway to ensure
greater transparency in the appointment process. The new
Chief Justice will need to press forward on the judicial
reforms begun by the highly-regarded Davide. End Summary.

Search for Next Chief Justice

3. (U) The search for the 21st Chief Justice of the
Philippine Supreme Court is almost at an end. From November
4-10, the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC), a presidentially-
appointed advisory group, solicited nominations to fill the
Chief Justice position. (Note: The JBC consists of
representatives from the House, the Senate, the Department
of Justice, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, academia,
and the private sector. A retired representative of the
judiciary also sits on the panel. End Note.) The position
is being vacated by Chief Justice Hilario G. Davide, Jr.,
who is scheduled to step down from the bench upon reaching
the mandatory retirement age of 70 on December 20 this year.
(Note: Davide has been Chief Justice since 1998 and was an
associate justice before that. End Note.) When nominations
closed on November 10, the list consisted of the five most
senior incumbent associate justices sitting on the Supreme

4. (U) The JBC was scheduled to hold public interviews of
all candidates on December 1. On that date, however, the
two least senior jurists on the list, Justices Consuelo
Ynares-Santiago and Angelina Sandoval-Gutierrez, recused
themselves from consideration. In response, the JBC
canceled public hearings on the candidates, stating that the
list was now "a fait accompli" and the three remaining names
would be submitted to Malacanang for review. (Note: The
JBC is required by the Constitution to submit to the
President a list of three candidates for the Chief Justice
position. Traditionally, the JBC has submitted the list to
Malacanang just before the incumbent Chief Justice retires.
End Note.)

The Three Candidates

5. (U) The three remaining candidates for Chief Justice

-- Associate Justice Reynato S. Puno, age 65: The most
senior Justice after Davide, Puno was appointed to the
Supreme Court in 1992 by President Fidel Ramos. He earned a
law degree from the University of the Philippines, and has
Masters degrees in Comparative Law from Southern Methodist
University and U.C. Berkeley. Prior to his appointment he
taught law and worked as a bar examiner.

-- Associate Justice Artemio V. Panganiban, age 69:
Appointed to the Supreme Court in 1995 by President Ramos,
Panganiban has been described as the most prolific writer
and one of the most articulate jurists on the Court. Prior
to his appointment he was a private attorney, a high-level
manager at the "Philippine Daily Inquirer" (a Manila English-
language newspaper), and a member of the Pontifical Council
for the Laity, appointed by Pope John Paul II.

-- Associate Justice Leonardo A. Quisumbing, age 66: After
a long career in the executive branch, Quisumbing was
appointed to the Supreme Court in 1998 by President Ramos.
Prior to his appointment, he served as Acting Secretary of
Defense, Acting Executive Secretary under President Ramos,
and Secretary of Labor and Employment. He also practiced
law as a partner in a major firm.

Next Steps

6. (U) On December 2, the JBC officially submitted the list
of three candidates to President Arroyo. The President must
appoint the next Chief Justice within 90 days of the date
the position becomes vacant (i.e., on or about March 20).
In the past, the President has typically appointed a
successor within about a week after the retirement of the
incumbent Chief Justice, so the appointment could be
imminent. The President's appointment becomes effective
immediately and does not require confirmation by Congress.
After the President appoints the new Chief Justice, the
process will begin to fill the vacancy for associate justice
left by Davide's successor. The procedures for appointing a
new associate justice will be the same as for the current

USAID Project

7. (U) The USAID-funded NGO "Transparency and
Accountability Network" (TAN) launched a project called
"Supreme Court Appointments Watch" to encourage greater
civil society participation in the appointment process and
to ensure greater transparency. TAN worked as part of a
coalition to conduct public information campaigns and invite
the public to submit reports to the JBC on the nominees.
Other coalition members include The Asia Foundation;
Alternative Law Groups, Inc.; the Association of Law
Students of the Philippines; the Integrated Bar of the
Philippines; the Lawyers' League for Liberty; and the
Philippine Association of Law Schools. This project is
similar to the recent USAID-sponsored "Ombudsman Appointment
Watch II," which facilitated wider public participation in
the appointment process that resulted in the choice of new
Ombudsman, Maria Merceditas "Mercy" Gutierrez (refs A-B).


8. (SBU) The new Chief Justice will need to press forward
on the judicial reforms begun by Davide. Davide is widely
respected for his efforts to reform the Philippine judicial
system by trying to reduce the backlog of cases, hire more
judges, and remove corrupt officials. The new Chief Justice
will have to work hard to continue these reforms -- despite
Davide's best efforts, the judiciary still is afflicted by
corruption; poor pay and working conditions for judges and
other employees; lack of computers; and not enough use of
alternative dispute resolution methods that would help
unclog court dockets. In addition, Davide's successor will
need to work on further institutionalizing dedicated
Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) courts. He will also
need to consider establishing special courts to handle
terrorism and trafficking in persons (TIP) cases, all of
which the USG supports. All three candidates to replace
Davide have solid reputations, which is positive for the
reform effort.


© Scoop Media

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