Palace: Appointments up to Arroyo
By Christine Avendaño
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—Malacanang Wednesday said President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo “may or may not” take the advice of her justice secretary who said that she could resort to making “midnight appointments” to fill vacancies in the judiciary, contrary to the position taken by officials of the Supreme Court.
Presidential spokesperson Ricardo Saludo said that Acting Justice Secretary Alberto Agra’s opinion was prompted by the court ruling of March 17 that said the 60-day constitutional ban on Ms Arroyo’s power to appoint applied only to the executive branch, not the judiciary.
Saludo was referring to the high tribunal’s decision that specifically allows Ms Arroyo to appoint the replacement of Chief Justice Reynato Puno on his retirement on May 17.
But he also said the court did not make a ruling on other vacant positions in the judiciary “for the simple reason the case that was brought to them was confined to the issue of the appointment of the CJ.”
Saludo told a Palace briefing that courts normally did not rule on matters that were not brought before them. He said, however, that the Palace would “take guidance” from Agra and even the chief presidential legal counsel on this issue.
“Now, legal guidance doesn’t mean presidential decision. Those are two different things. Once the guidance is given, the prerogative to decide on this is still the President’s, of course. She may or may not take a particular advice,” he said.
“So, I won’t immediately say that the position taken by Agra will necessarily be the action that will be taken by the Palace,” he said. “It can happen that positions and decisions taken by the justice department may not necessarily be adopted by the Palace.”
But he said that this could turn out to be an “academic discussion” because there might be “no pending appointments forwarded by the Judicial and Bar Council to the President” concerning the lower courts.
Leftist groups Wednesday formally appealed the high court ruling, pointing out that it had “opened the floodgates” to a host of problematic appointments.
Led by Bagong Alyasang Makabayan (Bayan), they said the high court “overstepped its bounds” when it went beyond the issue of whether Ms Arroyo could appoint Puno’s successor.
They assailed the court’s pronouncements “on the midnight appointment of all the other members of the judiciary, as well as on the applicability of its ruling to every situation of vacancy in the Supreme Court.”
“Clearly, in resolving one issue, the Honorable Court merely opened the floodgates to a host of other issues which would otherwise have been left undisturbed until the proper legal controversy presented itself in due time,” they said.
Also Wednesday, former Arroyo adviser and philanthropist Loida Nicolas-Lewis filed a motion for reconsideration of the decision, citing the opinion of Constitutional Commission member Fr. Joaquin Bernas that the ban included the judiciary.
Lewis led a number of Filipino voters working overseas in denouncing the court ruling.
“We criticize this decision that is taken in clear violation of the 1987 Philippine Constitution. We are outraged by the fact that it is creating a bad precedent for a transition president,” a manifesto said. With a report from Dona Z. Pazzibugan