..MANILA -- President Benigno Aquino III should appoint someone who is "fit" to be next Chief Justice regardless of age, a Malacañang official said Friday.
Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said the qualification of a candidate should be the primary basis for the selection of the next chief magistrate and the tradition of appointing someone who is near retirement should now be changed.
"All I'm saying is that we need to change this idea of someone who has to be near retirement before he can be Chief Justice," he added.
Lacierda was reacting to the statement of Senator Vicente Sotto III, who opposed Justice Secretary Leila de Lima's nomination to the post since she could have the longest term as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court if chosen by the President.
De Lima, 52, would be serving for 17 years if chosen as next chief magistrate. She, along with 21 other nominees, will face members of the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) on July 24 in a public interview seeking to determine their fitness to lead the judiciary.
Lacierda said there is nothing wrong to appoint a young Chief Justice who would outlast the term of Aquino and even future presidents.
"All I'm saying is a Chief Justice can be appointed at any age. It depends on the prerogative. If he was recommended by the JBC and the President finds a person fit to serve as Chief Justice, and regardless of age, that's something that we can accept," he said.
"The Constitution requires only a minimum age requirement. It does not require you to be near retirement before you can become Chief Justice. So let's change our perspective on -- or the idea that someone should be near retirement before he is fit to serve as Chief Justice," he added.
Lacierda cited the case in the United States where then President George W. Bush appointed current Chief Justice John Roberts in 2005 when he was only 50 years old.
There is no retirement age for US Supreme Court justices unlike in the Philippines where justices retire at the age of 70.
The Chief Justice who served for the longest period was Cayetano Arellano. He served for 18 years.
The one who served for the shortest tenure was former Chief Justice Pedro Yap who served for only 73 days in 1988.
Other Chief Justices who served for less than a year were Felix Makasiar (85 days), Ramon Aquino (78 days) and Artemio Panganiban (352 days). Of these Chief Justices, all but Aquino left office upon reaching the mandatory retirement age of 70. Aquino resigned in 1986 after the newly installed President Corazon Aquino asked for the courtesy resignations of all the members of the Court.
Chief Justice Renato Corona, who was an appointee of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, served for two years as chief magistrate. He was removed from the post by the Senate impeachment court last May for betraying public trust and committing culpable violation of the Constitution for his failure to truthfully declare his assets. (Jill Beltran/Sunnex)