#CJSearch: How did aspirants vote on key Supreme Court decisions?

(UPDATED) Rappler reviews key decisions from 2007 and finds that Associate Justices De Castro, Peralta, Bersamin, and Reyes Jr lean toward the executive or politicians

Lian Buan

11:0:0pm August 15, 2018

3:7:1pm August 21, 2018

TRACKING THE VOTE. Voting history in key Supreme Court decision reveals something about the justices aspiring to be the next Philippine Chief Justice. Photos courtesy of Supreme Court PIO

TRACKING THE VOTE. Voting history in key Supreme Court decision reveals something about the justices aspiring to be the next Philippine Chief Justice. Photos courtesy of Supreme Court PIO

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) is scheduled to interview on Thursday, August 16, five jurists who are applying to become the next Chief Justice.

Four of them are current justices of the Supreme Court (SC), 3 of them the most senior who have been on the Bench as early as 2007.

Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo de Castro, the most senior of the 5 aspirants, was appointed by former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in 2007. Associate Justices Diosdado Peralta and Lucas Bersamin were appointed by Arroyo in 2009. Associate Justice Andres Reyes Jr was presiding justice of the appellate court before President Rodrigo Duterte appointed him to the SC in July 2017.

Tagum City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Judge Virginia Tejano-Ang is also an aspirant.

Justices De Castro, Peralta, Bersamin and Reyes are career government officials who rose through the ranks. Bersamin and Reyes were justices of the Court of Appeals first before the SC, while De Castro and Peralta were justices of the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan.

De Castro is from the University of the Philippines, Peralta from the University of Santo Tomas, Bersamin from the University of the East, and Reyes from the Ateneo de Manila University. Ang is from Ateneo de Davao.

Voting pattern

But more important than their profiles is their voting history.

We reviewed key SC decisions from 2007 and found that De Castro, Peralta, Bersamin, and Reyes lean towards the executive or politicians, and in the Duterte administration, towards the President.

We found that the 29 most high-profile en banc decisions in the last 11 years can be broken down to 8 categories of cases that involve the following:

the executive or politicians

powerful interests like corporations or a foreign country

accountability of erring government personnel

conservative interests, particularly religion

freedom of expression

Philippine sovereignty

former president Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III

President Rodrigo Duterte

Here’s how they voted:

De Castro, Peralta, and Bersamin voted in favor of the interest of the executive when they junked petitions of the Malaya Lolas comfort women to compel the government to demand compensation from Japan.

The Arroyo administration did not want to demand compensation, saying that the issue had been settled by diplomatic agreements and atonement money earlier paid for by the Asian Women’s Fund.

The 3 also all voted to lift the ban on midnight appointments in the judiciary.

De Castro and Bersamin  also did not want to strike down the condonation doctrine, which previously extinguished the administrative liability of reelected officials. Bersamin and Peralta voted to stop then justice secretary Leila de Lima’s hold departure order which would have allowed Arroyo to fly out of the country. (Arroyo wasn’t able to fly out in an airport ruckus that made headlines in 2011.)

However, the interest of politicians did not prevail when the 3 voted to declare the practice of PDAF or the Priority Development Assistance Fund unconstitutional. PDAF amounted to millions worth of discretionary funds available to lawmakers.

When it comes to cases involving interests of powerful entities, De Castro, Peralta, and Bersamin joined the majority in denying the petitions that sought to demand payment from the United States for the damages done by the USS Guardian on Tubbataha Reef.

In the coco levy case, Bersamin wrote the decision that allowed Marcos crony Danding Cojuangco Jr to retain his 20% share from San Miguel Corporation (SMC), instead of awarding them to the farmers.

De Castro and Peralta inhibited because they came from the Sandiganbayan, which issued the ruling that Bersamin upheld. Peralta wrote that Sandiganbayan ruling.

In the retrenchment case of Philippine Airlines (PAL), Bersamin and Peralta voted in favor of PAL in a flip-flop decision of the High Court. Two Supreme Court decisions had previously declared the retrenchment invalid, but PAL managed to resurrect the case and win courtesy of a Bersamin ponencia. 

De Castro inhibited from the PAL case, while Reyes dissented.

In the case of Torre de Manila, Bersamin voted with the majority which allowed the construction of the high rise that was opposed for supposedly violating both zoning laws in Manila and rules that preserve culture and heritage sites. Torre de Manila obstructed the view of Jose Rizal’s monument in Luneta. De Castro and Peralta dissented.

In cases that involve accountability of erring government personnel, De Castro, Peralta, and Bersamin handed down votes that favored Arroyo, former president Joseph Estrada, and former senator Juan Ponce Enrile, who were all charged with plunder.

Arroyo was acquitted of plunder in a controversial Bersamin ponencia.

The 3 also all voted to allow a hero’s burial for the late Ferdinand Marcos, which triggered nationwide protests by Filipinos condemning human rights violations under the former dictator.

But when it came to young cadet Jeff Aldrin Cudia, who lied in his explanation for why he was late for class, the 3 voted that he should be dismissed by the Philippine Military Academy (PMA). 

De Castro, Peralta, and Bersamin proved to be conservative when they all voted to strike down provisions of the Reproductive Health (RH) Law that dealt with religious convictions, such as the clause that punishes RH providers, regardless of their religious beliefs, who fail or refuse to disseminate RH information.

De Castro and Peralta also voted in favor of the Diocese of Bacolod which displayed tarpaulins of candidates with labels of either Team Patay or Team Buhay (Team Death or Team Life) depending on their stance on the RH Law. 

On the issue of whether Grace Poe – who is a foundling – is a natural-born Filipino or not, De Castro was rigid in her interpretation of the Constitution, and said foundlings were not defined by the charter as citizens of the country. 

De Castro again favored the executive when she dissented in the decision that declared unconstitutional the government warnings against news organizations that published contents of the Hello Garci tape.

De Castro, Peralta, and Bersamin also voted to uphold the constitutionality of online libel in the Cybercrime Law.

De Castro is consistent with her votes on military agreements with the US. She voted that the Philippines must retain custody of an American soldier who was convicted of rape, and voted that the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreemnent (EDCA) is unconstitutional.

From 1987 to 1990, De Castro was a consultant of the Philippine panel of the Military Bases Agreement Joint Committee.

Both Peralta and Bersamin voted in favor of EDCA, and said the executive did not need the concurrence of the Senate to pass the treaty. 

It is said that justices who are career government officials tend to favor the executive more, as opposed to justices who come from the academe who seem to be more critical of the government.

Despite their leniency toward the executive, De Castro, Peralta, and Bersamin still voted against former president Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III. They declared unconstitutional Aquino’s truth commission, and parts of the Disbursement Acceleration Program or DAP. De Castro inhibited in the DAP case. 

And finally, since 2016, all cases of interest to Duterte have won in the Supreme Court with De Castro, Peralta, Bersamin, and Reyes all voting in the administration’s favor.

The JBC interviews are scheduled to begin at 9 am. Bersamin, De Castro, and Peralta go first in the morning session, while Reyes and Ang follow in the afternoon. – Rappler.com

Watch the interviews here:
LIVE: JBC interviews Supreme Court Chief Justice aspirants

Read other stories from the interviews:

#CJSearch: Bersamin defends rise in wealth during JBC chief justice interview

#CJSearch: Is Peralta front-runner for chief justice?

#CJSearch: Reyes says long career in judiciary offsets seniority

Oops! Davao judge mistakenly applies for chief justice

#CJSearch: Is it worth appointing De Castro who has only 2 months to serve?

#CJSearch: Promised reforms of chief justice applicants