Supreme Court (SC) Senior Associate Justice has been constantly in the political limelight, despite being a member of the apolitical branch of the national government.
Carpio has been at the forefront of the current maritime dispute between the Philippines and China regarding the South China Sea. China claims the area as part of its territorial waters and Beijing has been constructing naval bases in the disputed area. Manila contends otherwise.
The ancient nautical maps China repeatedly cites to justify its maritime expansionism have been debunked by other ancient documents unearthed and made public by Carpio.
Strengthening the Philippine position is a ruling in favor of the Philippines rendered by the International Arbitration Court (IAC) of the United Nations based at The Hague, in The Netherlands. China, however, does not recognize the ruling of the international tribunal.
Carpio has spoken about this issue at numerous symposia and similar local engagements, and has appeared on television for the same purpose. His arguments have been published in a book given away to his well wishers and supporters.
In the course of his lectures and interviews, Carpio criticized President Rodrigo Duterte for the latter’s seemingly accommodating stance vis-a-vis the Chinese. Carpio was referring to the publicized plans of Manila to share its right to exploit the resources of the area with China. He also warned that the compromising position demonstrated by Duterte may be construed under International Law as a waiver of the legal victory Manila scored in the IAC.
Just a few days ago, Carpio also warned that the recent withdrawal of the Philippines from the Rome Statute which created the International Criminal Court will prevent Manila from suing Chinese officials who allow the violation of human rights in the disputed area.
Duterte’s position is premised on his public refusal to enter into a shooting war with China which is a war Duterte knows the Philippines cannot win.
The problem is not in the sea but at home. Each hour Carpio spends en route to and from every speaking engagement, and during every speaking engagement for that matter, is time spent outside of his duties as a justice of the High Court. That also applies to time he spent putting his ideas in book form.
A justice of the SC should spend all of his official time doing adjudicatory work such as writing decisions and hearing oral arguments. Delivering speeches about the nation’s foreign relations which are activities more suited for are not part of the job description.
Although Carpio has enough office assistants, his office has quite a number of cases left unresolved. Perhaps, these dormant, unresolved cases could have been resolved years ago if Carpio spent more time as a justice than as a spokesman on Philippine foreign policy.
When the Judicial and Bar Council was accepting applications and nominations for the position of chief justice vacated by Maria Lourdes Sereno, Carpio refused to be nominated. He even rejected an overture from ex-Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr., the meddlesome, highly politicized and not so competent follower of ex-President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino, for him to consider the position.
Carpio publicly declared that he was not willing to fill up a vacancy created by a decision of the SC he dissented from. He was, of course, referring to the majority decision of the High Court to unseat Sereno through the quo warranto petition filed by Solicitor General Jose Calida. The post eventually went to Justice Teresita de Castro.
Now that Chief Justice de Castro has retired, the search is on for her successor. Since that new vacancy does not arise from the decision rendered in the Sereno case, Carpio has accepted his nomination for chief justice this time around.
Assuming Carpio is appointed chief justice, will he attend to his duties in the High Court full time, or will he continue to spend most of his time delivering public speeches on Philippine foreign policy done on official time?
Is it possible that Carpio is doing the lecture circuit in preparation for a run for the presidency in 2022?
Taxpayers pay justices of the SC, the chief justice included, to attend to their duties in the High Court. Making public speeches about Philippine foreign policy during office hours is not among the duties of a justice of the SC.
Perhaps Carpio should make a public promise that he will devote his time exclusively to judicial duties, if he is to be considered for possible appointment as chief justice, and that he will campaign for high public office only upon his leaving the judiciary.