Justice Bersamin enjoys slim lead in SC voting for next Chief Justice

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 31) — It looks like it will be a close fight among three senior associate justices for the Supreme Court's the top post, with Justice Lucas Bersamin enjoying a slim lead.

The Supreme Court said an internal voting during Tuesday's en banc session showed ten justices want Bersamin to be their next Chief Justice, while Justices Teresita Leonardo de Castro and Diosdado Peralta each got nine votes.

They are among the five most senior associate justices of the High Court, making them automatically nominated for the post that was declared vacant after the historic ouster of Maria Lourdes Sereno.

The Judicial and Bar Council (JBC), which screens applicants to the judiciary, will be notified of the Supreme Court justices' preference but it does not have to follow it.

Only two justices said Associate Justice Andres Reyes, Jr. should replace Sereno. President Rodrigo Duterte appointed him associate justice in July 2017.

Bersamin, De Castro, and Peralta are all appointees of former President and now House Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

All the four justices voted to unseat Sereno on May 11 and junked her appeal on June 19, permanently removing her from office.

Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio – who voted against Sereno's ouster and is the most senior among the associate justices – has declined the nomination.

Also vying for Chief Justice is Davao del Norte trial court Judge Virginia Tejano-Ang, the only candidate outside the Supreme Court. The 65-year-old presiding judge of the Tagum City, Davao del Norte Regional Trial Court Branch 1 would serve longest if appointed chief justice as she is set to retire in 2023.

READ: Who'll be the next Chief Justice? Meet the five applicants

All the other associate justices are retiring soon: De Castro in October this year, Bersamin in October 2019, and Peralta in March 2022.

The five applicants will undergo comprehensive medical examinations, psychological evaluation, written evaluative examinations, and public interviews.

An applicant should obtain the affirmative vote of at least four JBC members to be considered in the shortlist to be submitted to President Duterte.

The High Court on July 17 unanimously endorsed then Associate Justice Samuel Martires for the Ombudsman post. He was appointed by President Duterte on July 26.

CNN Philippines' Eimor Santos and Anjo Alimario contributed to this report.