Reverse CJ ruling, NP bets ask SC
By Dona Pazzibugan
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—Six senatorial candidates of the Nacionalista Party (NP) Monday asked the Supreme Court to reverse its “absurd” conclusion that the constitutional ban on presidential appointments during an election period did not apply to the judiciary.
The six NP candidates—lawyers Adel Tamano and Gwen Pimentel, former Cavite Rep. Gilbert Remulla, party-list representatives Satur Ocampo and Liza Maza, and former Labor Undersecretary Susan Ople—filed a motion for intervention and reconsideration of the high court’s 9-1 decision that would allow President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to appoint a new Chief Justice a few weeks before she steps down from office.
Chief Justice Reynato Puno will retire on May 17, which falls within the election period that began two months before election day and will end with the outgoing president’s term on June 30.
Section 15, Article VII, of the Constitution says appointments are prohibited during the election period save for “temporary appointments to executive positions when continued vacancies therein will prejudice public service or endanger public safety.”
A related provision, Section 4, gives the president 90 days to fill vacancies in the Supreme Court.
According to the candidates, the Supreme Court “failed to consider the clear intent of the framers of the Constitution and instead adopted a narrow interpretation of the two provisions resulting in an apparently absurd conclusion.”
“Hence, it is not surprising that a lot of people, especially from the legal profession, consider the decision to have been tailor-fitted to suit the interests of incumbent President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who is widely suspected of plotting to extend her term or at the very least to perpetuate herself in power,” they said.
Defies common sense
They said that the high court erred in saying that the Constitutional ban does not apply to the Supreme Court because Article VII was titled “Executive Department.”
This interpretation, they said, was “not only too restrictive but defies the basic tenets of common sense.”
Aside from being “overly simplistic,” the interpretation “undermines the foundation of separation of powers,” they said.
They said it was “obvious” that the provision against “midnight” appointments was placed under Article VII “not to limit its coverage to the executive branch but to “curb the president’s immense power to appoint not only members of the executive department but also the judiciary, so it would not be abused to serve political or partisan interests.”
“This is the reason why midnight appointments are not allowed. This provision was clearly meant to check the power of the president. To hold that the provision does not cover the judiciary effectively allows the incumbent president to undermine the independence of the judiciary at such a critical period,” the NP senatorial candidates said.
They also argued that the constitutional provision giving the President 90 days to appoint members of the Supreme Court meant that the high court could survive as an institution without a permanent chief justice for a given period.
“There is no question and it is a verifiable fact that the functions of the Supreme Court which is a collegial body will not be affected by the absence of a permanent chief justice. If the Constitution recognizes the possibility of having an acting president, intervenor(s) finds no reason why there cannot be an acting chief justice,” they said.
Protect from power lust
Lastly, they reminded the Supreme Court to “protect the people from the incumbent president’s lust for power and other subsequent presidents who will have the same intention.”
In a separate statement Ople, youngest daughter of former Sen. Blas Ople, said the Supreme Court in effect amended the Constitution.
Meanwhile, the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) will start the selection process for another associate justice to fill the seat of the magistrate who will replace Puno.
“We have not yet started the (selection) process but given the Supreme Court decision, that process could start now,” acting Justice Secretary Alberto Agra told reporters Monday.
“There’s no vacancy at the moment but we can start the nomination process,” he added.
He said this would be included on the agenda when the eight-man JBC meets on April 5.
Agra said they would also resume their discussion on the shortlist of nominees for Chief Justice.
He said they would decide whether they would still interview the candidates and how they would tackle the complaints filed against certain candidates.
He said the JBC would also ask Associate Justices Antonio Carpio and Conchita Carpio-Morales to “clarify whether they are still willing to be nominated by the JBC.” The two earlier said they would accept the nomination on the condition that it would be the next president who would make the final choice.