The Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) is the office created by the Constitution to screen applicants for appointment to judicial posts.
One who seeks appointment as a Justice of the Supreme Court must satisfy the requirements set forth in Section 7, Article VIII of the Constitution. Thus, one must be a natural-born citizen of the Philippines, at least 40 years old, and a judge of a lower court or a law practitioner for at least 15 years.
Under Section 11 of the same article, the compulsory retirement age for justices of the Supreme Court is 70 years.
The JBC may not add to or deduct from the foregoing requirements. To do so is to amend the Constitution, and the JBC does not have that power.
Those premises considered, it is alarming to find out that last year, the JBC came out with a rule governing applications for a seat in the Supreme Court. That rule states that the JBC will process the application forms only of those who can serve in the Supreme Court for a “reasonably sufficient time.”
More specifically, that rule provides that candidates for the Supreme Court must not be older than 67 and a half years old if the candidate is an appellate court justice, the court administrator, a chairman of a constitutional commission, the solicitor general, or a department secretary. All other applicants must not be older than 65 years.
That rule is unconstitutional because it amounts to an amendment of the Constitution by the JBC.
The JBC’s requirement that an applicant must be able to serve in the Supreme Court for a “reasonably sufficient time” is not found or authorized anywhere in the Constitution. It constitutes an addition to the qualifications for membership in the Supreme Court recited in Section 7 of the charter. In doing so, the JBC amended the Constitution, and as stated earlier, the JBC has no power to amend the charter.
This JBC rule is unconstitutional also because it violates the equal protection clause of the Constitution.
In a decision promulgated in November 2020, the Supreme Court ruled that equal protection simply requires that all persons similarly situated should be treated alike, and that there should be no arbitrary discrimination. The Supreme Court also emphasized that the classification of persons, to be valid, must be made on distinctions which make real differences.
If what the JBC had in mind is to limit applications to those who can serve in the Supreme Court for a “reasonably sufficient time,” why then does the rule allow a higher age ceiling for processing the applications of an appellate court justice, the court administrator, a chairman of a constitutional commission, the solicitor general, or a department secretary, and a lower age ceiling for other applicants?
For that matter, what makes these specified government officials so special in the eyes of the JBC anyway?
Undoubtedly, this extraordinary preferential treatment given to this special class of government officials under this rule is patently arbitrary. The rule should be revoked, there being no public announcement to the effect that it has been set aside.
It appears that at the time this new rule was issued, the JBC was composed of, among others, Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta (as ex officio chairman), Justice Secretary Menardo Guevara and former Supreme Court Justices Noel Tijam and Jose Catral Mendoza. All of them are supposed to be leading experts in law, so how could they have allowed this unconstitutional rule to get away in the first place?
A third constitutional issue stalks the JBC.
It is claimed that “as a matter of tradition,” the two most senior associate justices of the Supreme Court participate in the deliberations of the JBC.
If that “tradition” is really a practice, it is unconstitutional because under the charter, the JBC is composed of only seven people.
This is not the first time this newspaper has exposed anomalies in the JBC. Its past anomalies include its having nominated candidates who are not qualified to be in the judiciary.
Public interest demands a total revamp of the JBC.
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