Palace can’t appoint Sandigan chief – SC
By Edu Punay
The Philippine Star
MANILA, Philippines – The recent ruling of the Supreme Court (SC) allowing President Arroyo to appoint the next chief justice has effectively barred her from making midnight appointments to positions in the lower courts.
This was emphasized by court administrator and SC spokesman Midas Marquez who said that the rule prohibiting the appointment of judges and justices in appellate courts, based on the 1998 decision on the appointments of Judges Mateo Valenzuela and Placido Vallarta, still stands.
The SC on Tuesday upheld a March 17 ruling exempting the SC from the constitutional ban on midnight appointments. The ruling in effect gave the President the go-signal to appoint the successor of retiring Chief Justice Reynato Puno.
“This final decision of the court only covers appointments to the SC, not to the Sandiganbayan and positions in the lower courts,” Marquez explained.
He said the court rejected a government plea to exempt the entire judiciary from the ban.
“There are nine participating justices who voted to affirm the March 17 ruling. So in order to overturn Vallarta to exempt the entire judiciary from the ban on midnight appointment, there must be at least seven justices who would favor that the ban extend not only to SC but to the entire justices as well,” he said.
Marquez said five magistrates led by Associate Justice Lucas Bersamin voted to overturn the Valenzuela-Vallarta ruling.
The others were Justices Jose Perez, Roberto Abad, Martin Villarama Jr. and Teresita Leonardo-de Castro.
Four other justices, on the other hand, had taken the position that appellate and lower courts should not be covered by the exemption.
They were Associate Justices Arturo Brion, Jose Mendoza, Mariano del Castillo and Diosdado Peralta.
The top post in the Sandiganbayan became vacant following the death of Norberto Geraldez from pancreatic cancer complications barely a month after his appointment.
Senior Justice Edilberto Sandoval has been designated acting presiding justice of the anti-graft court.
While aching to name the next chief justice, Malacañang said it would abide by the SC ruling against midnight appointments to the Sandiganbayan and the lower courts.
“The High Court has spoken, we would abide by it,” deputy presidential spokesman Gary Olivar said.
He said the Palace has also asked Justice Secretary Alberto Agra to respond to the summons of the SC to comment on questions regarding his concurrent position as Solicitor General.
“Our stand there is for Secretary Agra to comply with whatever the Supreme Court is asking him to explain or to do,” he said.
Olivar said President Arroyo would not knowingly make an illegal appointment in the case of Agra’s dual posts.
Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr., meanwhile, called on President Arroyo to inhibit from appointing Puno’s successor despite the SC ruling.
“There is still a remedy and that is for Gloria to inhibit herself from appointing the chief justice,” Pimentel said during the Kapihan sa Senado yesterday.
“The incumbent president who only has a few weeks remaining in power, out of prudence and delicadeza, should not take up the matter of appointing a new chief justice,” he added.
Pimentel reiterated his stand that the SC might have erred when it ruled in a majority decision that Mrs. Arroyo may appoint a new chief justice despite a constitutional ban on midnight appointments.
“It’s not a question whether the SC rules with finality, the question is whether the ruling of the SC is right or wrong and it should be defended by the SC publicly,” Pimentel added.
Pimentel, a veteran lawyer, maintained that the SC was “certainly wrong by the standards of the Constitution and of the law.”
He noted that the President may appoint people as long as she is president, but the appointment of the chief justice is not obligatory immediately after a vacancy.
“It will be very imprudent of the President to appoint a new chief justice considering the circumstances,” Pimentel said.
JBC list almost ready
President Arroyo will get the list of nominees for the incoming SC chief justice from the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) next month, Quezon City Rep. Matias Defensor said yesterday.
“There is no need to rush the submission of the list because Chief Justice Reynato Puno is retiring on May 17 yet,” he said.
Defensor sits in the council as representative of the House of Representatives, where he chairs the committee on justice.
He said most likely, the JBC would send the list to Mrs. Arroyo shortly before Puno retires.
He said the council would still have to vote on when to submit the list and who would be in it.
The council has interviewed four applicants for Puno’s job. They are Associate Justices Renato Corona, Arturo Brion and Teresita de Castro of the SC, and Sandiganbayan Justice Edilberto Sandoval.
Two other applicants – SC Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and Conchita Morales – have said they would not accept an appointment from Mrs. Arroyo.
The two said the President would be violating the constitutional ban on midnight appointments if she named Puno’s successor.
There are speculations that the President prefers Corona over Carpio, who is the most senior associate justice.
Defensor confirmed that Corona was almost in tears when he faced the JBC. On the day he was interviewed, the Philippine Bar Association came out with newspaper ads criticizing Corona and his wife, who is an appointee of Mrs. Arroyo in Camp John Hay in Baguio City.
“He felt that the criticisms were unfair, that he was happy with his family and that was all that mattered to him, that he did not need the job of chief justice,” Defensor said.
He revealed that he and his Senate counterpart in the JBC, Sen. Francis Escudero, would still push for the inclusion of Carpio and Morales in the JBC list.
“We should not preempt the President and her successor. Who knows, she might not exercise her right to appoint the next chief justice and leave it to the next president,” he said.
He said if Mrs. Arroyo does not exercise such right, her successor could not consider Carpio and Morales if their names are not in the JBC list.
“Remember that the President can appoint only from the list of nominees submitted by the JBC. So we have to include them in our list, just in case,” he added. Jess Diaz, Christina Mendez and Paolo Romero