Supreme Court asked to prevent appointment of new chief justice
By Edu Punay
The Philippine Star
MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine Bar Association (PBA) has asked the Supreme Court (SC) to prevent President Arroyo from appointing the successor of Chief Justice Reynato Puno, who retires on May 17.
In a 46-page petition, the PBA sought the issuance of a writ of prohibition enjoining Mrs. Arroyo from naming the next chief justice should the Court allow the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) to submit the shortlist of nominees to her despite a constitutional ban on midnight appointments that already started last March 10.
It was the first petition that named the President as respondent.
Several petitions with exactly the same arguments have been filed with the High Court but only sought prohibition of the JBC from submitting the shortlist and mere declaration that the President is not allowed by law to appoint the next chief justice.
The lawyers’ group led by former Ombudsman Simeon Marcelo said Mrs. Arroyo and the JBC must be prevented from “committing acts in violation of the law and the Constitution.”
As in earlier petitions, the PBA reiterated the popular argument that Article VII Section 15 of the Constitution bars the President from making midnight appointments two months immediately preceding the May 10 elections and until her term expires on June 30 – a period covering Puno’s retirement date.
The group argued that the appointment of the new chief justice by Mrs. Arroyo within the election appointments ban “constitutes an election offense punishable under the Omnibus Election Code – nomination being part of the appointment process.”
They also alleged that the JBC “acts in contravention of the letter and spirit of the constitutional provision against midnight appointments” in continuing the nomination process with the view of submitting the shortlist to Mrs. Arroyo.
The continuous nomination process at the JBC “amounts to lack or excess of its jurisdiction, or grave abuse of discretion, considering that there is yet no vacancy for the position of Chief Justice of the Honorable Court,” added the PBA, the oldest voluntary national organization of lawyers in the country.
Earlier, petitions of the Philippine Constitution Association (Philconsa) and lawyers Arturo de Castro and Estelito Mendoza asked the Court to compel the JBC to submit a shortlist to Mrs. Arroyo from where she will choose the replacement of Puno.
Several petitioners, including chapters of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP), have opposed the petitions and filed separate interventions and oppositions.
The JBC has opted to await ruling on the consolidated petitions before deciding when it would submit the shortlist of final nominees to the Palace.
The JBC moved to the next stage of the selection process, which includes public interviews of candidates and deliberation and even interview of constitutional experts if necessary.
It had already earlier solicited public comments on the six candidates for the chief justice post: Senior Associate Justices Antonio Carpio and Renato Corona; Associate Justices Conchita Carpio-Morales, Arturo Brion and Teresita Leonardo-de Castro; and Sandiganbayan acting Presiding Justice Edilberto Sandoval.
The issue on the appointment of the successor of Chief Justice Puno has triggered legal and political debates as it is the first time under the 1987 Constitution when the retirement of the chief justice falls in the period covered by the election ban on appointments.