Devanadera says CJ row clogging up vacancies
By Dona Pazzibugan
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—The controversy surrounding the appointment of a new Chief Justice has likewise stymied efforts to fill other vacancies in the judicial system, contributing to clogged court dockets, outgoing Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera said Monday.
Devanadera, ostensibly making a case for the swift resolution of the standoff, said the last two meetings of the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC), of which she is an ex-officio member, had been inexplicably canceled.
She said vacancies in the various Regional Trial Courts (RTC) and Municipal Trial Courts (MTC) could not be filled until the JBC had screened the applicants and submitted its recommendation to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
The JBC has been embroiled in the constitutional controversy over Ms Arroyo’s decision to appoint the next Chief Justice when Reynato Puno retires on May 17.
The Constitution bans Ms Arroyo from making so-called midnight appointments starting March 10, or two months before the May 10 elections, until the end of her term on June 30.
In a unanimous move, the JBC has started the screening process but passed on to the Supreme Court the decision on whether Ms Arroyo could appoint the next Chief Justice without violating the Constitution.
“I am sorry that meetings have been canceled … The problem is no reason is stated and I don’t want to venture [into speculations],” she told reporters after farewell ceremonies arranged by employees of the Department of Justice for her.
Devanadera, who is leaving the department to run for a congressional seat in Quezon province, said lack of judges was one of the primary reasons for the “slow pace of resolving cases” in court.
Too many vacancies
“There are too many vacancies in the RTC and MTC. But there are also many applicants in the judiciary,” she said.
She admitted that the inadequate number of government prosecutors also hampered litigation. But unlike judicial posts, there are hardly any takers for the job of prosecutor due to the “small pay yet great personal risk” that comes with the job.
“So I hope the JBC will do its share. But we can’t hasten (filling up vacancies) if we don’t have meetings. I don’t know the reason why they are canceled,” Devanadera said.
The eight-man council is constitutionally tasked to nominate appointees in the judiciary, from trial court judges to Chief Justice.
The four ex-officio members of the JBC are Chief Justice Puno as chair, Sen. Francis Escudero and Quezon City Rep. Matias Defensor, chair of the Senate and House committees on justice, respectively, and Devanadera.
The other four members who are all appointed by President Macapagal-Arroyo are Regino Hermosisima Jr. as retired Supreme Court justice representative, Dean Amado Dimayuga for the academe, Conrado Castro for the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, and retired Supreme Court Justice Aurora Santiago-Lagman for the private sector.
The JBC is supposed to meet every Monday of the week. But meetings have been canceled in the last two weeks.
No to ‘midnight appointment’
Devanadera said that aside from the selection of the next Chief Justice, the JBC also has on its agenda the filling up of vacancies in the trial courts as well as in the Sandiganbayan, Office of the Ombudsman and the Court of Appeals.
Also Monday, the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL), joined a petition by four other lawyers’ groups in the Supreme Court opposing Ms Arroyo’s planned midnight appointment of Puno’s successor.
“A midnight appointment would be able to purchase loyalties in strategic places, enough for an outgoing president to extend his or her power and influence beyond the tour of office,” the NUPL said in its motion to intervene.
Not Carpio vs Corona
“This is precisely what the prohibition seeks to address and there is no cogent reason in law to argue that members of the judiciary should be exempted from the application of this rule,” the NUPL added.
Former Senate President Franklin Drilon Monday said at the Kapihan sa Manila Hotel that the controversy over the next Chief Justice should not be reduced to a bout between Supreme Court Justices Antonio Carpio and Renato Corona.
“I hope that we can bring back the debate not on the personalities of these two senior justices but of the concept and legal issue of whether or not the President violates the Constitution if and when she appoints the next chief justices not withstanding the constitutional ban against such midnight appointments,” he added. With a report from Philip C. Tubeza