ACTING CHIEF JUSTICE Antonio Carpio says impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona should have resigned “right away” than go through a contentious impeachment trial.
Carpio said the resignation would have been all the more urgent if Corona had wrongly declared the true state of his personal assets “to that extent.”
Carpio made the statement while being grilled on Thursday by members of the Judicial and Bar Council as one of 22 nominees to the position of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. The JBC had begun public interviews of the aspirants for Chief Justice on Tuesday.
Corona was convicted by the Senate sitting as an impeachment body last May on charges of culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of the public trust for failing to accurately declare his assets in his statement of assets liabilities and net worth.
During the impeachment trial, Corona admitted to owning $2.4 million in dollar accounts and P80 million in peso accounts that he did not declare in his statement of assets, liabilities, and net worth.
“If I misdeclared my SALN to that extent, then I would resign right away,” Carpio told the JBC. Carpio had been asked if he thought that Corona should have resigned early on instead of going through the impeachment process.
Interestingly, Carpio and Corona have been at odds since Corona was impeached in December last year. Corona had repeatedly accused Carpio of wanting his position as Chief Justice. Carpio has taken over as Acting Chief Justice since Corona was convicted.
“I have said that the impeachment was directed at a particular Justice and we are not affected. But I will not deny that it has brought up problems about the judiciary like clogged dockets and corruption,” Carpio said.
Carpio also dismissed charges that he had a hand in the impeachment and conviction of Corona, who was his close friend and colleague since law school until they had a falling out in recent years. Carpio said he was being accused of “scheming to impeach the Chief Justice with President Aquino.”
“I never talked to these people, I never talked to you,” Carpio told JBC member Rep. Niel Tupas Jr., who had also served as lead prosecutor during the impeachment trial. “How can I convince 168 (sic) congressmen to sign the impeachment (complaint).”
Carpio also assured the JBC members that he would be an independent Chief Justice despite allegations of close ties to the President. “I can assure everyone I will continue to be independent. I have been consistent with my judicial philosophy regardless of the political consequences,” he said.
At the same time Carpio emphasized that it has been part of tradition for the President to appoint a senior SC justice as Chief Justice of the high court. Carpio said the only time this tradition was broken was during the Japanese occupation during World War II, when an outsider was appointed Chief Justice.
However, Carpio also stressed that he respects the President’s prerogative to appoint an outsider if he so wishes.
“This encourages incumbents to look forward to the day they will be senior and have the chance to be Chief Justice,” Carpio told the JBC. “I will not deny that it will be bad for morale (if the President appoints an outsider), but the President also has the prerogative.”
Asked what he thought was the biggest problem of the judiciary now, Carpio pointed to the clogged dockets in both the high court and the lower courts. Carpio said he aims to address this problem by streamlining court processes and encouraging settlements among litigants.
For example, Carpio pointed out that judges have to write full decisions for everything from a major case to minor administrative penalties on erring court employees. He said the Supreme Court could simply agree that judges do not need to write full decision on cases below a certain penalty cut-off.
Also, Carpio said he wants a judicary where only ten percent of cases filed really go to trial. Carpio stressed the need to train more mediators and judges who can screen out cases that may be resolved through settlements.
For his part, University of the East College of Law Dean Amado Valdez got into a tussle with JBC chair Diosdado Peralta when Peralta grilled him on why he allegedly said that a judge needs to make a moral choice when issuing a temporary restraining order.
Peralta said nowhere in the rules of court does it say that a judge has to make moral decisions when he renders judgement. Valdez said he never said that the moral aspect was the only consideration.
In fact, Valdez said he had in mind a particular celebrated case where a controversial TRO was issued by the judiciary, resulting in one personality attempting to flee the country. While Valdez did not name the case, he appeared to be referring to the TRO issued by the Supreme Court last year against the travel ban imposed by the Justice Department on former President Gloria Arroyo. Arroyo tried to leave the country as soon as the TRO was issued by the SC. The Aquino government however refused to enforce the TRO, insisting that the conditions for the TRO had not yet been fulfilled.
“Pag nakaalis na ang tao, hindi na TRO iyan,” Valdez said. “I was referring to a specific case.”
“The moral ingredient must be coupled with reason, you have to balance it,” Valdez said.
“Moral choice is not an element (in law),” retorted Peralta.