MANILA - Commission on Elections (Comelec) Commissioner Rene Sarmiento, a nominee for Chief Justice, wants the Supreme Court to start writing its decisions in the national language instead of English, and he backed this up by delivering his opening remarks and answering nearly all the questions from the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) in Filipino.
He is the first among the 12 nominees for Chief Justice interviewed so far (as of July 25) by the JBC to do so.
He admitted, however, that having SC decisions written in Filipino "will take a long time," but added the high court should start the process so that the Filipino masses can better understand the court's rulings.
Sarmiento noted that some Regional Trial Court judges already write their decisions in Filipino.
Answering a question from JBC member Regino Hermosisima, Sarmiento said his decisions in the Comelec are written in English, prompting Hermosisima to say his choice of language in the JBC interview was "for show" since the proceeding was being broadcast live.
Social justice, human rights
In his opening speech, Sarmiento said his judicial philosophy centers on social justice and human rights.
As one of the 50 members of the Constitutional Commission (Con-com), Sarmiento said he was able to introduce social justice and human rights provisions in the 1987 Constitution.
Among these provisions are on the creation of a Commission on Human Rights, anti-torture, and other provisions in the bill of rights.
He said he also co-sponsored the constitutional provision on political dynasties to democratize political opportunities. He lamented that Congress has failed to pass laws to implement this provision, adding that if appointed Chief Justice, he would try to "give life" to it.
In the Comelec, among the reforms he helped introduce are empowering detainees to vote (15,000 voted in the barangay polls in October 2010), making polling stations more accessible to the elderly and Persons With Disabilities in the 2013 polls, and empowering 16 million indigenous peoples (IP) by creating an NGO network to help them register and vote.
He said he would continue to be a "passionate reformer" if chosen by the President to head the judiciary.
Sarmiento said he favors amending the economic provisions in the 1987 Constitution so that more foreign investments can come in.
He said the 60:40 foreign equity rule is "already outmoded" and should be amended by reducing the required Filipino capitalization, for instance, from 60% to 50% for a 50:50 equity.
He said President Aquino and the leaders of Congress should meet and discuss these amendments that will open up the economy to foreign capital.
Based on studies, he said countries that have relaxed restrictions on foreign equity have been able to attract foreign investments and create jobs.
Asked what mode of charter change should be used, Sarmiento said he favors the constituent assembly mode with the Senate and the House voting separately. If the two houses vote jointly, he said the Senate will surely lose.
He said the formula of constitutional law expert Fr. Joaquin Bernas of having the House approve the constitutional amendments first and then getting the Senate to confirm these changes was a "good proposition."
On further opening up the mining industry to foreign capital, Sarmiento said he favors this provided the investments are property regulated and they bring in jobs.
Asked why he wants to be Chief Justice, Sarmiento said he went through a "reflection" and decided that it would be another opportunity to serve the country.
"To be Chief Justice, one must not only be a visionary but also a leader and CEO, an all-season public servant," he said.
Sarmiento was short-listed for associate justice of the Supreme Court in a prior bid for a seat in the high court but was not chosen.
He said he has been in government service since 1986, serving in the Constitutional Commission, human rights committee, Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, and now as Comelec commissioner.
Sarmiento also said he has exercised independence while serving in the Comelec, citing his dissenting opinions in the cases of party-list groups Ang Ladlad and Ang Galing Pinoy.
In the case of Ang Ladlad or the LGBT community, the Comelec denied the party's bid to be recognized.
In the case of Ang Galing Pinoy, even if he was appointed by then-President Arroyo, Sarmiento said he voted against allowing Mikey Arroyo to represent marginalized security guards and drivers.