Most Filipinos, even the highly educated ones, have the wrong impression that the ultimate dream of a private lawyer is to be appointed in the Supreme Court.
This impression arises either out of arrogance on the part of the justices who claim such a theory or out of ignorance of insecure members of the Bench and the Bar, and of the Media, as to the sociology and the philosophy of the Bar.
Government service, e.g., appointment in the Supreme Court, is not the sole criterion of self-fulfillment of a member of the Bar. Enlightenment and selfless service to mankind are the true indicia of ultimate success and liberation of a private lawyer.
I, for one, prefer not to serve in Government or to be employed in multibillion corporations. I prefer to be on my own, serving the common Filipinos in my modest capacity as a private litigator. Employed corporate lawyers would brand private lawyers like me as “main street lawyers”, as distinguished from “Wall Street lawyers”.
I am happy and satisfied working alone as a legal advocate, doing justice one case at a time, teaching law one listener at a time, and living a modest and transparent life untainted by greed, hatred, envy, and illusions of grandeur and permanence. I own my own small law office. I control my own time and my own psychic income. I am my own boss. I can speak out my mind on current national and local issues without fear of violating any bureaucratic chain of command. Truly, I am most effective in the private sector as I carry the cudgel for the oppressed, the poor, the weak, and the ignorant.
At any rate, in a recent column of former Justice Isagani Cruz in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, he reacted to the system of public interviews by the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) of nominees or applicants to vacancies in the Supreme Court, calling the same as humiliating and demeaning, to wit:
“I view the proceedings with distaste because they cheapen the applicant and even the Supreme Court itself where it is the position that must seek the person to occupy it and not vice versa. Prospective justices are not politicians whose highest qualification is popularity that may be won through the box office or other preposterous inducements, never mind integrity and competence. Judges require a higher level of intelligence, morality and, no less important, self-respect. I don’t think any of our eminent jurists in the past would have agreed to submit to the interrogation imposed by the JBC on persons hoping for its imprimatur.”
However, if we revert to the old system of commanding that nominees to the Supreme Court must undergo the partisan rigors before the congressional Commission on Appointments, it would seem to be a worse case, at first glance. In the end, though, such an arrangement is the lesser evil.
I would rather entrust the fate of the Supreme Court to elected lawmakers constituting a Commission on Appointments than rely on the decisions of unelected personalities appointed by the President to the JBC. Electoral mandate forms a sui generis human conscience that is preferable to that of well-connected and elitist appointees.
Below is the full text of his column.
The lawyer’s ultimate dream
By Isagani A. Cruz
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:07:00 01/25/2009
WITH the retirement of another justice of the Supreme Court next month, there is even now a scramble for the vacancy to be filled by the President from a list of nominees to be submitted by the Judicial and Bar Council. Aspirants must apply with their bio-data to the JBC so it can schedule their interview, or examination. No one, however prestigious, can expect to be just invited; he must ask to be nominated like all other applicants. The public can witness the competition where the candidates will be subjected to sundry questions to test their eligibility to sit on the highest tribunal.
I view the proceedings with distaste because they cheapen the applicant and even the Supreme Court itself where it is the position that must seek the person to occupy it and not vice versa. Prospective justices are not politicians whose highest qualification is popularity that may be won through the box office or other preposterous inducements, never mind integrity and competence. Judges require a higher level of intelligence, morality and, no less important, self-respect. I don’t think any of our eminent jurists in the past would have agreed to submit to the interrogation imposed by the JBC on persons hoping for its imprimatur.
When the Supreme Court was reorganized in 1986 after Edsa I, there was no JBC yet and no campaigning either. As far as I know, none of those appointed engaged in the cheap tactics now being employed by the present hopefuls. I myself can swear that I never approached even Speaker J. B. Laurel and Vice President Doy Laurel, who were my law partners then, or any one else for that matter. Malacañang learned about our qualifications not directly from us but from our public credentials and the people who knew us.
It was Executive Secretary Joker Arroyo, at that time only a casual acquaintance, who informed me of my appointment and the oath-taking the next day. That was the first time I met President Cory Aquino who had never seen me before and probably knew me principally from my résumé that Dean Rodolfo Palma of the UE College of Law, husband of Justice Cecilia Muñoz Palma, had requested from me.
I guess we were less aggressive then, or more decorous, because of the dignity of the office for which we were being considered. I recall that when, years later, I recommended the appointment to the Supreme Court of Adolfo Azcuna, who was then a stranger to me, he reacted with admirable modesty and gratefully declined the honor. (Somebody now would have grabbed it ferociously.) He was such a contrast to that insolent aspirant who practically commanded the JBC to “just nominate me and I’ll take care of Malacañang!” There was also that executive underling who sent a niece of mine to bring me a cake and request my help to make him a justice.
As a consultant of the JBC for several years, I was able to observe the many types of applicants it had to deal with and especially noticed the courtesy with which it received them. The docility of some of them must have been caused by their feeling that they were taking another bar test. The JBC now schedules some of its sessions in the South to make their search more economical to lawyers who may not have the means to prove in far-away Manila their capacity to be judges.
There are many extra-constitutional tests that applicants may flunk even if they pass all the constitutional requirements. In the exercise of its discretion, the JBC may reject persons who do not belong to the party in power, wear outmoded or loud clothes, are graduates of obscure law schools, have gambling, graft or liquor problems, or simply look disreputable. It may also take into account some pluses, like topping the bar examinations, post-graduate studies abroad, impressive work experience, and loyalty or opposition to the administration. According to Chief Justice Puno, being over 65 years old is not a constitutional bar but may only be among the many factors to be studied by the JBC in evaluating the over-all acceptability of the applicant.
We usually imitate the United States in many things good and bad, but unfortunately not in the way it chooses appointive judges. In “The Nine” by Jeffrey Toobin, there is an interesting account of President Bill Clinton’s unsuccessful efforts to persuade estimable prospects to join the federal Supreme Court. Especially regrettable was the case of appellate Judge Richard Arnold, the generally acclaimed jurist with a classical education in Greek and Latin and valedictorian of Harvard Law School in 1960, among many other distinctions. The brilliant candidate never became one of The Nine because he had been diagnosed two decades earlier with lymphatic cancer that Clinton feared might spread out any time. It did seven years later.
There is no compulsory retirement age for judges in the United States, unlike here where members of the judiciary, including justices, presumably become senile at 70 and must go out to pasture. That is why many ambitious figures from the bench and the bar, including those older than 65, are setting their sights on a seat on our Supreme Court as their ultimate dream.