It’s final: GMA can pick next Supreme Court chief
By Edu Punay
The Philippine Star
MANILA, Philippines – President Arroyo’s power to name the next chief justice was affirmed by the Supreme Court (SC), which ruled with finality on the case yesterday.
Nine justices voted to uphold their March 17 decision that the constitutional ban on midnight appointments does not apply to the SC.
Holding session in Baguio City, Associate Justices Lucas Bersamin, Jose Perez, Roberto Abad, Martin Villarama, Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, Arturo Brion, Diosdado Peralta, Jose Mendoza and Mariano del Castillo dismissed the arguments raised in the motions for reconsideration of various groups.
Justice Conchita Carpio-Morales dissented, while Chief Justice Reynato Puno and senior Justices Renato Corona and Antonio Carpio did not take part in the voting.
At Malacañang, deputy presidential spokesman Gary Olivar said the SC ruling will pave the way for the appointment of Puno’s successor after he retires on May 17.
Deputy presidential spokesman Rogelio Peyuan said Mrs. Arroyo would do what she deems is in the best interest of the country.
“If this is what is required of the President then she would do this especially since this was not her determination but this is what was contained in the decision of our Supreme Court,” he said in Filipino.
Jose Midas Marquez, court administrator and SC spokesman, said the majority of justices believe that the basic issues raised in the motions for reconsideration have been passed upon in the original decision.
“Given the background and rationale for the prohibition in Section 15, Article VII, we have no doubt that the Constitutional Commission confined the prohibition to appointments made in the executive department,” read the SC decision.
“The framers did not need to extend the prohibition to appointments in the judiciary, because their establishment of the JBC and their subjecting the nomination and screening of candidates for judicial positions to the unhurried and deliberate prior process of the JBC ensured that there would no longer be midnight appointments to the judiciary.”
However, the justices failed to come up with a doctrinal ruling on whether the exemption to the midnight appointment ban applies only to the SC or to the entire judiciary, Marquez said.
Justices Antonio Eduardo Nachura and Presbitero Velasco voted to grant the motions for reconsideration on the ground that the decision was premature.
Justice Carpio-Morales believed that Mrs. Arroyo cannot name the next chief justice based on the constitutional ban on midnight appointments.
Three resolutions were issued by the Court yesterday: one by Justice Bersamin, who penned the decision; another by Justice Brion, who concurred with the majority decision, but with a qualification; and the last one by Justice Carpio-Morales, who reiterated her dissent.
It was exactly the same voting as in the consolidated petitions of the Philippine Constitution Association and lawyers Arturo de Castro and Estelito Mendoza.
There was no majority vote as to the validity of the 1998 decision of the Court to void the appointments of Judges Mateo Valenzuela and Placido Vallarta to the regional trial courts for violating the constitutional ban on appointments during the election period.
The SC again gave weight to the government’s position that appointments in the SC cannot be considered midnight because of the nomination process in the Judicial and Bar Council.
It also agreed with the Office of the Solicitor General that the JBC does not have the power to withhold its list from the President.
Pimentel: JBC must stop screening CJ aspirants
Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. urged the JBC yesterday to stop screening aspirants for the post of chief justice since the vacancy will only occur on May 17.
“The position of chief justice is not an executive position,” he said.
“And no temporary appointments may be made to that position. It is also a position in a collegial body whose functions would not be prejudiced even if for some time it is vacant.”
Pimentel said the Constitution clearly bans appointments by the President two months before the elections and up to the end of his or her term.
The only exceptions are temporary appointments to executive offices, he added.
Pimentel said while the post remains unfilled, the most senior justice can serve as acting chief justice.
“And under the circumstances, it won’t be vacant for long because the new administration would come into power after June 30 this year,” he said.
“And the new president would have ample time to appoint the new chief justice.”
Sandoval’s qualifications questioned
Chief Justice Puno questioned the qualifications of acting Sandiganbayan Presiding Justice Edilberto Sandoval during his public interview before the JBC yesterday.
Puno told Sandoval his 14 years of law practice were focused on criminal law.
A chief justice needs a well-rounded practice of law, he added.
However, Sandoval pushed his judicial improvement program like payment of judges’ benefits.
On the other hand, Justice De Castro told the JBC the Supreme Court “should decide cases with dispatch to stabilize the nation,” instead of creating chaos.
The SC must be a stabilizer for progress, she added.
The interview ended at around 7:30 p.m. with Justice Corona being swarmed with recurrent questions on several complaints of his judicial independence and judgment on cases he had handled.
The JBC took cognizance of the complaints against Justice Corona.
After the public interviews today, the JBC will submit a shortlist to Mrs. Arroyo on Tuesday. – With Artemio Dumlao, Marvin Sy, Christina Mendez, Delon Porcalla, Aurea Calica