By Raymund Antonio
Some Oposisyon Koalisyon (OK) senatorial candidates on Wednesday questioned President Rodrigo Duterte’s appointment of new Chief Justice Lucas Bersamin, who replaced retired Teresita De Castro.
His appointment elicited different reactions from former solicitor general Florin Hilbay, Magdalo Representative Gary Alejano, and former assemblywoman Samira Gutoc.
Hilbay said Duterte should explain why he kept on saying that his choice would be based on seniority and then he chose Bersamin, who was not the most senior justice.
He maintained that Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio should be the top magistrate if the choice would indeed be based on seniority.
“Kailangang tandaan rin na sinabi ni Presidente na i-appoint niya iyong pinaka-senior. Iyon ang sabi niya noong last appointment,” he said, referring to De Castro.
(Let us remember what Duterte said when he appointed the most senior. He said that in his last appointment.)
“Kung may rule siyang ganoon, kailangang linawin ng Pangulo ang basis ng pag-appoint kay Associate Justice Bersamin kung nag-apply naman ang pinaka-senior sa kanila,” Hilbay added.
(If he has that rule, the President should make it clear what his basis in appointing Associate Justice Bersamin was, if the most senior among them applied.)
But despite his statement, Hilbay said Bersamin was “highly-respected” and has a “good reputation” in the High Court.
“We are expecting that he would fulfill his duties. We hope Chief Justice Bersamin will make use of his time to institute massive reforms,” the former solicitor general said in Filipino.
Hilbay faced the media in a briefing held in Quezon City, along with Alejano and Gutoc.
Alejano called the appointment of Bersamin as “bayad-utang (pay back)” for his decisions on issues that were favorable to Duterte.
The former soldier said the public should remain vigilant on the future actions of the new chief magistrate.
“Hindi ako naniniwala na na-appoint ang bagong Chief Justice dahil sa seniority (I don’t believe he was appointed because of seniority),” he said.
“Dahil sa kanyang (Because of his) record, we will continue to be vigilant,” Alejano added.
The congressman said that Bersamin should also be given the benefit of the doubt that he would promote the independence of the institution.
Meanwhile, Gutoc said Mindanaoans would continue to watch how the High Court would rule on the Bangsamoro Organic Law, which is being questioned by a group of governors.
Bersamin, the 25th Chief Justice, was involved in the ruling of a number of high-profile cases.
He voted in favor of the K to 12 program, the ouster of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, and the year-long extension of martial law in Mindanao.
He sided with the majority in allowing the burial of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani and favored the arrest of opposition Senator Leila De Lima, a fierce Duterte critic, in drug charges.
Bersamin will reach the mandatory retirement age of 70 in October 2019.