MANILA -- Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno urged members of the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) to exercise due diligence and impartiality in performing their duty as 'gatekeepers' of the judiciary.

“We are like gatekeepers, for when we are able to only allow those who deserve to enter will we be able to change the face of the judiciary,” Sereno said in her speech during the JBC’s 30th anniversary gala on Friday held at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC).

“We hold the future of our nation, and therefore, it is critical that we properly choose who we will include in the shortlist — someone who is without a shadow of a doubt, loyal to the law, and will be independent,” she added.

The Chief Justice stressed that relationships and other factors do not have any place in the process of voting in the council.

“We must remain unfettered by the shackles of friendship and I know I have lost friends in the process of casting my vote and so have my other brave co-members of the council,” she said..

She also reminded the JBC members that their duty is essential to address "transparency and accountability in the Philippine justice system."

“I believe that we will be able to do our job well if we keep in mind that the judiciary is not a place for naked ambition or pride, but one for those whose hearts are for service through upholding the rule of law,” Sereno added.

Sereno, meanwhile, lauded the JBC for its hard work in helping in the selection and appointment process of competent candidates for positions in the judiciary.

“I would like to recognize the JBC’s accomplishments as we consistently try to decrease the judiciary’s vacancies. Since 2010, a dramatic increase in applications have been processed and deliberated upon by the Council. We have drawn up list for 179 positions for may 2015 to April 2016,” Sereno said.

The seven-member JBC, chaired by Sereno, is constitutionally mandated to screen and vet nominees to the President for vacant posts in the judiciary and the Offices of the Ombudsman and Deputy Ombudsman.

Sereno said the complete shift of the JBC to a fully operationalized integrated data system greatly helped in processing these vacancies faster, adding that it also noteworthy that more women are applying for posts in the judiciary especially in the lower courts.

“As the constitutional body vested with the delicate and arduous task of vetting candidates for judicial positions and key positions in the Office of the Ombudsman and the Legal Education Board, I fervently hope we will continue to pursue reform measures to make the selection process more credible and robust without compromising anything,” she said.

She said in line with their commitment to improve the transparency and public awareness and the proceedings, the Council conducts public interviews and many of these interviews especially for these key positions are broadcast live.

“The schedules of the interviews are published in newspapers of general circulation, and the Public Information Office provided for a live streaming on the Supreme Court’s official Youtube channel,” she added.

“What we have looked into test applicants’ mastery of the law; values and philosophies; we observe their personality, demeanor, and physical condition. We also send out questionnaires to persons who have knowledge of their qualification or disqualification, reputation, or character. These responses are held with strict confidentiality and we are tabulate this according to a a set criteria and formula. The results are submitted and served as the guide of our deliberations,” Sereno said.

Apart from Sereno, the current membership of the JBC is composed of Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II, Sen. Richard Gordon, and Rep. Reynaldo Umali as ex officio members; and its regular members, namely, retired SC Justice Jose Mendoza and lawyers Jose Mejia, Maria Milagros Fernan Cayosa, and Toribio Ilao Jr.

All the applicants will be screened by the JBC and the shortlist would be submitted to President Rodrigo Duterte.

President Duterte is expected to appoint at least 11 Associate Justices in the Supreme Court during his six-year term. (PNA)