VIEWS FROM THE RIDGE
The 1987 Constitution provides for very significant and far-reaching provisions on the Judiciary under its Article VIII. Aside from providing for citizenship, age and service qualifications for justices and judges, it provides that a “member of the Judiciary must be a person of proven competence, integrity, probity, and independence.”
Appointees shall be drawn from a list of at least three nominees prepared by the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) for every vacancy. Appointments do not need any congressional confirmation as had been the practice before the 1987 Constitution took effect.
With the Chief Justice as ex officio chairman, the JBC is composed of the Secretary of Justice, and a representative of Congress as ex officio members; a representative of the Integrated Bar; a professor of law; a retired member of the Supreme Court; and a representative of the private sector, as members.
Thus, by constitutional mandate, political influence in the judicial appointment process has theoretically been significantly lessened: The President, a political official, remains the appointing authority, but his choice in appointing justices and judges is now limited to the short list submitted by the JBC; he cannot appoint anyone not in the JBC list.
On the other hand, the Legislature (itself a political institution whose members are all popularly elected and which – before the 1987 Constitution – participated in the appointment of justices and judges through the required confirmation by the congressional Commission on Appointments) has been effectively removed from the appointment process, except for the remaining representative from Congress who still sits in the JBC.
Acting pro-actively, Congress in 1998 passed R.A. 8557 establishing the Philippine Judicial Academy (Philja). Under this law’s Section 10, “only participants who have completed the programs prescribed by the Academy (Philja) and have satisfactorily complied with all the requirements incident thereto may be appointed or promoted to any position or vacancy in the Judiciary.”
Philja, for its part, responded to this mandate by establishing the Pre-Judicature Program (PJP), initially envisioned to be the participants’ introduction to “a judicial perspective of the law, a more reflective, inquiring and philosophical perspective” (as described by Fr. Ranhillo Aquino, Dean of the San Beda Graduate School of Law and a member of the Philja Corps of Professor) to prepare potential judges for the daunting task of adjudication.
As R.A. 8557 expressly directed, Philja at the same time used the PJP as an assessment tool for the appointing authority’s use in considering appointments. Thus, the PJP initially served the dual purpose of being a training and an assessment tool.
For a long while, uncertainty reigned regarding the PJP’sactual nature, purpose and role in the appointment process. (I underwent the PJP more than 20 years ago when I applied for the position of Associate Justice of the Court of Appeals (CA), in order to be certain that I would qualify for the CA position in all respects.)
It was not until June 2021, after my appointment as Philja Chancellor and after consultations with Chief Justice Alexander G. Gesmundo (who sits as Chair of both the JBC and Philja); Justice Jose C. Mendoza (who sits in the JBC as representative of retired SC Justices) and the Philja leadership (whom I shall later individually name and credit for the development of the new PJP) did Philja establish and concretize the new PJP as a purely assessment tool – Philja’s compliance with its Charter, R.A. 8557.
Our conclusion was based on the combined dictates of the constitutionally-imposed requirements of competence, integrity, probity and independence for members of the judiciary; the mandate, likewise under the Constitution, for the JBC to provide the list of recommendees from which the President shall choose his appointees; and Philja’s own mandate under its Charter, R.A. 8557, that “only participants who have completed the programs prescribed by the Academy and have satisfactorily complied with all the requirements incident thereto may be appointed or promoted to any position or vacancy in the Judiciary.” As now envisioned, the new PJP would purely be an assessment tool using absolute measures to assess the qualification of applicants to judicial office; it would not simply be a legal education training tool; it would be Philja’s contribution to the JBC – given pursuant to law – when the latter prepares the constitutionally-required list for the President to choose from in appointing justices or judges.
Philja’s assessment shall be pegged on the heretofore illusive constitutional concepts of competence, integrity, probity and independence, gauged from the knowledge, skills, and ethical values and attitudes that every justice or judge should continuously possess from the start of his term until he retires.
Training for the new judges and justices shall be separately provided by Philja before the appointees assume office, and continuously thereafter in the course of their judicial service. Philja’s Academic Council and Board of Trustees both approved this new PJP concept and the assessment programs that fleshed it out.
For lack of space, Part II of this PJP Series shall be continued next week.