Shortlisted: The Judicial and Bar Council interviews with the Chief Justice nominees

Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism and the Court Appointments Watch Network

Posted at Oct 23 2019 10:33 PM | Updated as of Oct 23 2019 10:59 PM

One sweated profusely and even teared up, another confessed to having a talent for dancing, and the third said he would want to have canned goods and a can opener if he were trapped on a deserted island.

At the very least, the interviews conducted by the Judicial and Bar Council provided glimpses, though very brief, of the personality of each nominee for the post of Supreme Court chief justice.

Four associate justices of the Supreme Court were interviewed by the JBC last Oct. 2 as possible successor to Chief Justice Lucas P. Bersamin. Thirteen days later, the JBC shortlisted three of the four for President Rodrigo Duterte to choose from.

To be sure, the justices’ performance at the interviews must have had considerable weight in the JBC’s selection of the final three. But perhaps because some of the applicants had already been interviewed in previous rounds, the questions asked were uneven in tone, content, and relevance.

The following are excerpts from those interviews, which ran for more than an hour each. Both questions and replies were edited for brevity and readability.

Q: What is your vision for the judiciary? What are your plans for the court?

ASSOCIATE JUSTICE DIOSDADO M. PERALTA

  • Eliminate backlog in SC and all other courts; start from home and live by example
  • Reduce timeline in resolving motions and other case incidents as we have done in the lower courts
  • Continue and improve the system we are presently adopting or implementing in the SC
  • Automate court processes and incorporate court technology
  • Propose skills-based training for judges and court personnel like what we have been doing in continuous trial in criminal cases, small claims cases, plea bargaining cases
  • Oral sentencing in plea bargaining cases
  • Weed out misfits from the judiciary
  • Monitor performance in all courts
  • Improve procurement bidding (perennial problem, especially for courts outside Metro Manila)
  • Strengthen the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA)
  • Implement the Judiciary Integrity Board and harmonize its functions with that of the OCA
  • Continue to revise the Rules of Court

ASSOCIATE JUSTICE ESTELA M. PERLAS-BERNABE

It will be a united judiciary geared toward judicial efficiency and integrity.

ASSOCIATE JUSTICE ANDRES B. REYES JR.

Inventory of cases and look for the oldest cases and try to issue a program to decide them as soon as possible.

Visit lower courts

Q: On clogged dockets: One of the reasons for backlog is the failure of courts to continue hearing regularly (Monday to Friday), also because of lack of PAO lawyers and prosecutors. Does your program include coordination with the DOJ?

PERALTA:

The Justice Zone addresses these problems; SILG takes care of policemen, SOJ takes care of prosecutors, NBI etc., SC

Implementation of Continuous Trial showed improvement in resolution of criminal cases (data from report presented to Congress); program ongoing for two years; it is an effective tool in reducing docket

Develop skills of judges in handling plea bargaining cases and drugs cases (more than 100,000 cases filed every year with 1,040 RTC, judges are overburdened)

PERLAS-BERNABE:

The first thing I would do is to set dialogues with various stakeholders and key officials of the institutions and the purpose of this dialogue is to lay down the framework or the groundwork of my vision. I will seek their cooperation and ask them to participate in my vision thereby espousing a culture of inclusivity and empowerment. I will hear from them their problems and I will give them the group work of my vision in such a way that we can hear both sides and all sides of the problem and find a concrete solution.

REYES:

Was not asked

Q: On judicial marshals for judges: At least 35 lawyers and judges were killed in the line of duty. PJA sought the creation of the Marshal system as a result of the killings. Establishing this may help prevent further killings. Is this a good solution to the problem?

PERALTA

It is an excellent solution; when one life is in danger, what we do is to seek help from the police agencies, which are not within our control and supervision. If we have the marshals then, they will be reporting to us, then judges’ lives will be safer; but the problem is: can the SC open positions for marshals without violating the rule that only the Congress can open offices? There was a proposal during the budget hearing to help SC for a bill proposing such because of too many deaths and threats. Some problems include budget, administration, judges not used to supervising armed men and so on.

PERLAS-BERNABE:

I do not know the reason why they are being killed but there should be a reason behind it; but the judges should be secured considering they are the one handling cases involving drugs and other heinous crimes.

I would opt more for more security to them than the marshals (the ones who feel that they are in danger).

I do not know how much expenses will be incurred to have these special marshals but I can check on the possibility on this plan of action.

There are many projects and plans that we can think of but sometimes there are budgetary and logistical concerns.

REYES:

Was not asked

Q: On the lack of court stenographers and backlog in cases. How will you address this problem to avoid accumulation of cases in lower courts?

PERALTA

We are employing contractual stenographers to resolve the problem in the meantime; but there is another problem on compensation (SG14) v. Private firm (2x)

Work has been lightened in first level courts because all direct testimonies of witnesses are in affidavit form instead of oral testimonies. They will only be taking cross examination Qs propounded.

There is also a bill pending in the Senate exempting the judiciary from the Salary Standardization Law. This may entice stenographers from the private sector, may be enticed to join the judiciary.

PERLAS-BERNABE:

They are now in the process of hiring contractual stenographers.

The reason that many stenographers are retiring or getting out of the office is because of the continuous trial; they are so much loaded with having to prepare stenographic notes.

Q: Is it possible that it is because of the pay?

A: Probably but they also charge a particular rate for every stenographic note made aside from what they receive from the court.

It is mostly because of the heavy workload that they get out of government.

Post applications on the website and raise pay grade to make it more attractive.

REYES:

Was not asked

Q: Failure to act on survivorship in SC en banc (CJ Sereno), how do you prioritize and ensure that the matter be expedited?

PERALTA:

Was not asked

PERLAS-BERNABE:

Q: There have been complaints on the retirement pay for judges and justices, how will you speed it up? (IBP)

The benefits are now being taken care of more speedily because applications for survivorship directly go through the Court and will not pass through another committee, unlike before.

If there is a need to streamline the process, we could just coordinate with the OCA (Office of Court Administrator)

REYES:

A: As PJ (ex-presiding justice of Court of Appeals), these petitions needed signatures, processes (explained process); I don’t see any delay.

There was some delay because that happened in the RTC and MTC; CA does not have enough funds.

Q: On integrity and public’s continued perception that the judiciary is corrupt, justice for sale?

PERALTA

Perception is greater than reality but reality is that there are only few corrupt. We publish discipline of judges; but we are passive, we cannot go the media and explain ourselves, our voice is limited; but we can continue informing the public about what we do about the misfits.

PERLAS-BERNABE:

Everything plays when there is an opportunity but this perception may be erased through visible results like speedy and consistent ruling on cases.

REYES:

No idea about how public perceive SC, but I am always of the theory that justice delayed is justice denied.

The foundation of reform is that there is no delay.

Q: On dispensing speedy justice

PERALTA

The lower courts have been performing well. Before we revised the guidelines for continuous trial, the dockets went down. For the 2nd level courts, they are drowned in drug cases but we are trying our best; some solutions are legislative but we are trying to develop tools and skills of the judges for plea bargaining, and implement continuous trial, which has considerably reduced the dockets of the court.

We are proposing to amend BP 129 on the jurisdiction of the RTC reflecting changes in amount threshold.

PERLAS-BERNABE:

We have a problem on congestion of cases. I would prioritize the implementing rule on the Judges-at-Large act as well as the full implementation of the Family Court Act because right now we have only implemented the 1st tranche of the Family Court Act and there’s so many designated FC judges who are hindered from performing general jurisdiction cases

...(inaudible) ... such that the OCJ and the OCA will have access to the management system ... (inaudible) ...

Training materials to be used for specialized courts

We can also codify the various rules of procedure contained on administrative issuances into ordinary procedure for the guidance of the bench, the bar, and the public.

REYES:

Talk to judges individually and discuss how they can help with problem; raise to en banc so they can realize that these things have to be done.

Make en banc realize passion to help the public.

Q: What makes you say that you are better qualified now than before?

PERALTA

A: I always practice the principle. I live by example.

PERLAS-BERNABE;

Was not asked

REYES:

Q: You will be staying in the court for eight months, what concrete reforms do you intend to implement within the next four months and what other concrete reforms will you implement before you end your term?

Good working computer system; it can be installed within the year/ populate datA: Once you populate the data, you can update status of the cases.

Q: What reforms will you prioritize?

PERALTA

Was not asked

PERLAS-BERNABE:

On the decongestion of dockets, I will prioritize the implementing rules on the judge-at-large act as well as the family court act.

Seek codification of rules of procedure.

Urge the PhilJA (Philippine Judicial Academy) to create a template for courts not only for orders for specialized courts, but also for decisions and resolutions of the lower court judges.

Corruption and accountability - activate Judicial Integrity Board so that complaints against judges and court personnel/admin can be heard and investigated and seek the creation of the Committee on Ethics so that we can investigate on cases of graft and corruption and other ethical standards.

REYES:

Q: All CJs have promised reforms but mindset of people in the SC is preserving the conservative side/tradition/ not fixing when it’s not broken. Court can only move in a collegial manner, are you confident that you are able to institute reforms considering that you need clearance or en banc?

Talk to judges individually and discuss how they can help with problem; raise to en banc so they can realize that these things have to be done.

Make en banc realize passion.

Q: On dealing with the news media

PERALTA

Was not asked

PERLAS-BERNABE:

Q: Would be you be comfortable talking in media on matters that you feel are of public interest or paramount importance?

No, my first duty is to the Court. I will feel uncomfortable speaking about issues because these may come to court and it’s a way that I may really voice out my opinion.

REYES:

Q: Confidential deliberations are leaked to the public before promulgation, how would you address it as CJ?

I don’t bring cell phone. Refrain from making announcement.

Q: Would you talk to media on matters of public interest like SAJ Carpio? Is there anything improper?

I would not know but I will not talk on any subject at all but if I need to talk, about backlog, but not on issues.

Q: How can you effectively promptly initiate reform if you have to go through the en banc to secure the approval? (Reforms may be stymied because of this)

PERALTA

If you have an opinion, present your opinion; you can present a dissenting.

PERLAS-BERNABE:

Was not asked

REYES:

Q: You are now No. 7 in seniority, do you have moral ascendancy over the six to persuade them to pursue reforms?

A: I hope that they will try to listen to me and understand the reforms I try to implement; not personality but reforms.

I can talk to them and impart with them the importance of helping the country.

Q: On business interests

PERALTA

Was not asked

PERLAS-BERNABE:

(Explained that husband runs and manages two business entities -- Ericoil Inc. - gasoline and Bernabeach in Nasugbu, Batangas)

REYES:

Q: You have many friends in government, private sector, business sector, is this not detrimental to your judicial independence? When you deal with them for the judiciary, isn’t it expected that something in return should be given to them which will impair independence?

A: Honesty is the best policy. I hope that they will try to listen to me and understand the reforms I try to implement; not personality but reforms

I can talk to them and impart with them the importance of helping the country.

Q: What is your defining ponencia?

PERALTA

I always practice the principle - I live by example.

Rights of the accused - speedy trial, fair, just. Afford due process to everybody.

Rolando Corpus case - first time that the legislature amended the RPC and changed the amounts where the subject matter of the penalty is based on the amounts.

Dimatuca case amended the law on Probation Law

PERLAS-BERNABE:

Was not asked

REYES:

Q: Are there any notable change in your qualifications compared with last year?

I am now a Senior member of the court, I am now number seven. I learned to love the Court before than ever before. I enjoy my work now as member of the Court. I look forward to every day.

Q: How do you fare with your colleagues? Do you participate actively and intelligently?

Yes. Sometimes I ask them Qs.

Q: On the judiciary’s funds for benefits, facilities

PERALTA

Q: As an Ilocano, will you be stingy/tightwad on giving benefits?

We have to be prudent in utilizing our funds and we should not take advantage of our fiscal autonomy. We cannot use savings other than for personnel services.

PERLAS-BERNABE:

We have a budget already for infrastructure and we are really moving toward establishing courts.

Ask congress to approve budget for infrastructure.

We can also ask local government to donate land and buildings.

REYES:

See below

Q: On travels

PERALTA

Q: Considering travels, will you do the same thing and be an absentee CJ?

There are times I did not use my wellness (I’m a workaholic). I will still see to it that I can go around the Philippines to meet with judges but not as much considering administrative work of CJ.

PERLAS-BERNABE:

Q: When you’re CJ, would you still attend conferences and trainings abroad?

No more, I don’t think I cannot travel anymore because of the adjudicative and administrative functions of the CJ except on very important occasions when presence of CJ is required.

REYES:

Was not asked

Q: Only outstanding judges deserve travel/training overseas?

PERALTA

Make it a point to include them in training programs abroad.

PERLAS-BERNABE:

The last time I was tasked to designate judges, I drew by lots the selection of these judges.

REYES:

Was not asked

Q: On getting help from LGUs for the courts

PERALTA

Q: Is it about time to refer to LGUs for the construction of halls of justice?

If the DILG will spend for SC building, there might be a Q on cross border transfer of funds - not allowed in Consti.

SC should form own bidding committee, not ad hoc status quo.

PERLAS-BERNABE:

Was not asked

REYES:

Personal experience as RTC judge in Makati, LGU gives allowances We try to give justice to the people by having the cases heard.

Q: Salary, retirement pay for judges

PERALTA

Was not asked

PERLAS-BERNABE:

The benefits are now being taken care of more speedily because applications for survivorship directly go through the Court and will not pass through another committee, unlike before.

If there is a need to streamline the process, we could just coordinate with the OCA (Office of Court Administrator).

Q: On state of wealth

PERALTA

Was not asked

PERLAS-BERNABE:

Q: You have the highest net worth among applicants, can you explain this?

I entered the judiciary in 1996 and we have already accumulated a little wealth. My husband is engaged in business and I was earning from private and government institutions since 1977. Business entities: Ericoil Inc. – gasoline, Bernabeach – Nasugbu resort.

REYES:

Q: Going to your ITR and SALN, I cannot balance...(compares SALN), could you enlighten where you bring your earnings that your net worth goes down each year?

I ended my marriage so we haven’t settled property relations. I gave money to children.

Q: Final statement?

PERALTA:

I deserve to be CJ because I worked very hard all these years. I’m not the topnotcher, I’m not an honor student but I’ve compensated for that as a public prosecutors, judge, justice, chairman of various committees etc. I think these are more than enough.

PERLAS-BERNABE:

The position of CJ is not a position of superiority, it is an opportunity to lead the judiciary. So whoever is appointed, I would like to request that he hears the constituents, the problems that they have. Remember that collective effort is the key to success. Above all, he must always remember that he owes loyalty to the Constitution and the people.

REYES:

Honesty is the best policy - you have to be honest with all your dealings; you must have a good heart and sincere. You must show them that you are a hard worker. Work even beyond 5 PM. Do all your best.

DIFFERENT QUESTIONS ASKED OF EACH NOMINEE:

DIOSDADO M. PERALTA

Q: How do you monitor that judges and lawyers misbehave?

A: Problems of lack of personnel in OCA (11 Judicial Officers conducting audit)

Apply principle of res ipsa loquitur - even if there is no complainant but the decision is wrong - misappreciation of facts, interpretation of the law, favor a party, did not inhibit when warranted - investigate the judge; cannot wait for a party to file a complaint.

For the lawyers, we do not have the resources to monitor performance unless IBP will participate in policing own ranks.

Q: Why not tap PhilJA to monitor performance of judges?

A: One of my programs is to monitor performance of judges; divide justices into groups and go to judges

Q: Estipona case - Court declared unconstitutional shut down provision on plea bargaining for drugs cases; but didn’t it affect campaign against illegal drugs?

A: Consultation with different agencies (problem on Sec. 5), we agreed plea bargaining if less than one gram, 10 grams for marijuana.

Q: GCTA - Court held that it can be applied retroactively. Can Estipona case be applied retroactively as well?

A: Law on penalty shall be given retroactive effect if favorable to accused (unless repeat offender)

Prebargaining is a remedial law, not penalty, cannot be given retroactive effect. General rule, not exception.

Q: Ban on U.S. entry for officials who participated in De Lima detention: what is your comment on members of foreign Congress commenting on decision by Philippine courts?

A: No problem with us, it has been USAID who has been inviting us through ABA ROLI and TAF.

The U.S. has been coming here supporting us (i.e. special rules for admiralty cases), offering to travel to U.S.

Q: Can you explain that you are not arrogant but just speak with passion (Ilao)?

A: The best witnesses would be my colleagues in the SC, how they size me up; but if there’s somebody who committed dishonor, I am passionate about that. I cannot relax my position.

Sobrang bait ko - nagpapautang ako, lagi akong nagpapasalubong to my staff.

Q: How passionate are you with your wife and family?

A: I’m a good father and good husband. It’s hard if your wife can issue a warrant of arrest against you (it’s possible eh).

Q: How will you lead the JBC as ex officio chairperson?

A: As how I led the Sandiganbayan as PJ, how I led HRET - Collegiality, all opinions will be respected. Continue leading by example.

In order to improve the system, you are better than I; but from what I see is that you are undermanned, a lot of applicants.

Q: How can you maximize technology and social media in the SC?

A: Through PIO, disseminate what the Court has been doing

Q: What is your leadership style?

A: You have to be cordial to the other person so he will listen to you; but if illegal, I will say do not talk to me.

Q: How do you gain the respect of others?

A: All these years, I’ve led by example. I report to work at 8 AM.

PERLAS-BERNABE:

Q: What is your most devastating failure?

A: Not very devastating except that sometimes you get frustrated by the decisions rendered by the Court

Q: Supervision of the Bar: How do you monitor lawyers, who are also under the SC? Who polices the ranks of lawyers (not IBP)?

A: Lawyer Information System will determine good standing of lawyers - penalty, active practice or not.

IBP can also help.

Q: On court administration: Do you intend to commission all the judges-at-large?

A: Coordinate with the OCA (Office of Court Administrator) to determine where the judges are needed.

Q: There is a complaint on the arbitrary computation of travel bond being discriminatory

A: This is an access to justice issue, which needs to be studied. There are indigents exempt from filing fees so we can also consider this when it comes to securing bail bond.

Q: Is it proper to revisit decision when the ponente and/or majority of the members of the Court have already retired?

A: Overturning jurisprudence is based on the merits of the case. It can only be overturned if founded in the law; but the problem is when the jurisprudence has no more factual basis because of the realities of the time, then, it should be abandoned and overturned.

Q: If a law banning premarital sex is introduced in the Philippines, would you consider the law constitutional or unconstitutional?

A: There is no prohibition in law and in the Constitution. To restrict that or render it unconstitutional would infringe on the right to liberty and freedom of expression.

Q: What is your understanding of academic freedom?

A: Freedom from interference in so far as academic institutions are concerned with respect to their goals and objectives. It may include the right to choose the subject they will teach, who will teach, how will it be taught, right to admit students in their schools.

Q: Does allowing students to go out of the streets to demonstrate and air their legitimate grievances against the government an exercise of academic freedom?

A: It’s more of freedom of expression not the right to academic freedom because academic freedom relates to institutions of education.

It will not be included in the academic freedom of the school.

Q: What are your pet peeves in the Court during deliberation?

A: Arguments with no basis in law and jurisprudence.

Q: What do you consider as your greatest accomplishment in the Supreme Court?

A: Rules on Financial Rehabilitation and Insolvency Act - financial liquidation and suspension proceedings; cyrbercrime Rules issued under chairmanship; landmark cases that changed landscape on the Court’s stand toward public accountability.

Q: What is your proposed plan of action to ensure a reasonable bar examinations?

A: I am personally attending to all the Qs to the bar. I have made the syllabus very concise and directed all examinees to focus on the syllabus because I will not include Qs beyond what is contained in the syllabus.

I will protect strict confidentiality in the Qs.

Q: Were there unreasonable examinations in the past?

A: Since 2011, this is the first time the syllabus is revised. I made it very brief and concise. I took away topics that are not relevant and which I think are already obsolete. They can focus on the syllabi of each subject.

Q: Any tip?

A: None.

Q: Do you have a program on those who will not pass the Bar?

A: I was one of those responsible who removed the five-strike policy so when they fail, they are still qualified to take the bar provided that they undergo refresher course after three attempts.

They can qualify as paralegals for quasi-judicial bodies, they are hired as researchers of law offices.

Q: What are your hobbies?

A: Golf, watch movies, travel, attend social gatherings as a way to maintain balance.

Q: Any talent?

I know a bit of dancing.

Q: What changes have you made in working with others to be more effective at work?

A: Every time a newcomer comes in, I try to tell them of my court habits and I inform them that if you do not move fast enough, you will wake up one day and have heavy caseload.

I show them my computer programs, inputs of cases and anything they need especially with respect to advices on cases. I am always open.

Q: Your son works in the Malacañang with the Office of the Executive Secretary and in some cases, you voted against the government. It was either there was no influence on you or if any, you were impervious to the influence.

Q: Do you feel conflicted when you make decisions that may run against the interest of government?

A: No, my son and I are governed by the separation of powers doctrine.

Q: You dissented in the quo warranto case filed by OSG but in your dissent, you said that then CJ was not totally blameless. You said that it was the wrong mode, it should have been impeachment. You also dissented in the Martial Law extension case.

A: I did not dissent, I concurred.

Q: What do you wish you have done differently in your life?

A: I would have wanted to be a doctor. Even when I was in my 3rd year college, I wanted to be in medicine; but my parents did not allow me to do so.

Q: How do you handle cases being in a bad mood or in a difficult situation?

A: I’m always on my feet. Even if I am sick and in a bad mood, I am still able to carry out my duties.

Q: What is the ritual that helps you be in a good mood?

A: I just take a break once in a while and then get back on my feet and able to work again.

Q: If you could be a fictional character, who would you be?

A: Superwoman

Q: Should there be a rule that a justice should serve for at least two years in the Supreme Court?

A: Yes it takes a while to adjust to the work of the Court, about three to six months.

Q: How could you help the stenographers?

A: Because of the load of work, salary and rank should be upgraded.

Q: That will require legislation, how about immediate remedy?

A: They are covered by insurance. We can adjust pay through steno notes charges.

Q: Are you prepared in giving the Bar Examinations? What will be the effect with being Chairperson if you become CJ?

A: Since I’m already done with the Bar preparations, I can focus on the adjudicative and administrative work of the chief justice.

REYES:

Q: Is mental health of judges important? How does the court monitor?

No monitoring.

Q: If judges are acting normal, there’s nothing wrong?

A: Yes, even in private companies. Hire psychiatrist.

Q: If found mentally unstable, remove from office?

A: Defer to psychiatrist.

Q: From among the candidates, you top my list with 15 administrative cases (impeachment in 2018, admonished for gross ignorance of the law 1998 for imposing erroneous penalty and delay in filing info etc), are these cases a reflection of your work ethic? (Ilao)

A: No, those cases were made because the parties were not residents of San Mateo.

Q: If I were to point at anyone you’ve worked with, what is the percentage would be not fond of you?

A: I hope none.

Q: How would your colleagues describe you?

A: My door is always open, I act on their request. I always attend to the employees, if you cannot see me, you can talk to your department heads. Connect with the employees.

Q: How about the others?

A: Just forget him and not worry about him and continue with work.

Q: Who prepared your PDS (Personal Data Sheet)? Your height is 60.203 meters, is that correct? In bank deposits, you left the amount blank, why?

A: My secretary prepared my PDS. It is a computation error. Attached but I’ll write a letter tomorrow.

Q: What are five other uses for a stapler?

A: Paper weight, for shoes, self-defense, hammer.

Q: If you were stranded in an island but your basic needs are taken care of, what three items do you want to be with you?

A: Opening for can, opener, canned goods, water.

Q: How about your toupee?

A: It’s OK.

Q: You will be staying in the court for eight months, what concrete reforms do you intend to implement within the next four months and what other concrete reforms will you implement before you end?

A: Good working computer system; it can be installed within the year/ populate datA: Once you populate the data, you can update status of the cases. – PCIJ and Court Appointments Watch, October 2019