The Supreme Court (SC) is an elusive institution. Under the mantle of privacy, the Court enables itself with the painstaking task of resolving legal controversies that are raised before it by the public. But the same people who seek the wisdom of the magistrates know little of its business. This veil against public scrutiny also comes as a fitting tool for the court to remain objective in deciding cases.
With that being said, the appointed justices are usually known only in the legal community. Historically speaking, the appointed Justices are the brilliant lawyers who toiled themselves in years of law practice. This has been continued to this day. The glaring fact, however, remains that over the century of the Supreme Court’s existence, most of the appointees came from schools that we can count in one hand.
The Duterte Legacy
When President Duterte came into power, the promise of drastic change premised on tapang (courage) and malasakit (empathy) quickly resonated with many Filipinos. It is no puzzle why he clinched the presidency. People adored this kind of political packaging. The same call for change also reverberated to other government institutions particularly in the Supreme Court, in the trend of his appointments.
President Duterte shattered the stereotype appointments of his predecessors. He instead focused more on the seniority of the justices vying for the coveted Supreme Court seat. In addition, he diversified the school backgrounds of his picks. To date, most of the Duterte appointees come from the Court of Appeals who served in the appellate court for years–some even served for decades.
In the past, especially during the Marcos regime, most of the appointees graduated from the University of the Philippines, where Marcos himself graduated as well. Other Presidents like former President Corazon Aquino and President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo widened the opportunities for equally brilliant lawyers from other academic institutions.
For example, President Corazon Aquino appointed Justice Florenz Regalado–the lawyer with the highest Bar Exam rating in Philippine history–who graduated from San Beda College of Law. Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban, an Arroyo appointee, graduated from Far Eastern University. President Arroyo also appointed Justice Dante Tiñga, an alumnus of the University of the East, in the High Court. These are some of the notable improvements in the trend of SC appointments.
In addition, President Duterte pioneered on how to dilute the school backgrounds of the justices. We can now see that the opportunity to become a member of the highest court of the land is not reserved to the elite few. In fact, the concept of elitism is rewritten by the latest appointments in the Supreme Court together with the diversity in the topnotchers of the bar exam in recent history.
With this, a new generation of lawyers can see that breaking the glass ceiling in the Supreme Court is something that is possible now even if you are not a product of the traditional schools that penetrate appointments in the past.
Now, the Supreme Court experienced a different majority in the academic backgrounds of the sitting justices. True enough, most of President Duterte’s appointees came from Ateneo de Manila and San Beda Law. But things don’t end there. Justice Henri Jean Paul Inting carved his own mark as the first Supreme Court justice who graduated from a provincial university. He is an alumnus of Ateneo de Davao University. Another improvement came in the appointment of Justice Edgardo Delos Santos who is an appellate justice from Cebu and a graduate of University of San Carlos. Justice Priscilla Baltazar-Padilla also made history as the first alumna of the Lyceum of the Philippines College of Law to earn a seat in the High Court.
Of course, the current Chief Justice Diodado Peralta and Associate Justice Amy Lazaro-Javier are products of University of Santo Tomas.
More to come
The clock is ticking. Barely two years left in his term, we can expect more unprecedented decisions from President Duterte’s appointments in the judiciary. On top of that, these changes open up a new era in how the relationship between the executive and judiciary works. Moreover, the celebration of diversity is something that we can look forward to as the President wraps up his term. The President’s legacy in the Supreme Court will continue to reshape the history of the judiciary. For sure, the Duterte legacy will be a benchmark for his successors in choosing the next composition of the members of the Supreme Court as soon as the next President starts his or her term.