SC as ‘Arroyo Court’ tarnishes image, stirs confusion
By TJ Burgonio, Jerome Aning
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—A storm of protests greeted the ruling of the Supreme Court authorizing President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to name the next Chief Justice, with former Commission on Elections Chair Christian Monsod lamenting the emergence of a tribunal “especially accommodating to [her] wishes.”
Monsod, a member of the 1986 Constitutional Commission, said the ruling was ambiguous because the 1987 Charter was clear on the ban on appointments by the President before a presidential election.
Monsod said the high court’s ruling was not actually “history changing” because the 14 other justices were Arroyo appointees.
He said the bigger issue was whether the high court would allow—as some administration allies in Congress had proposed— Ms Arroyo to continue serving as “holdover President” if the automated elections fail and no president or vice president is elected by the end of her term on June 30.
“Maybe they’ll switch sides on the issue of the holdover President. Maybe the Supreme Court can vindicate itself on that one,” he said.
“I’m saddened by this. I thought we will not have a ‘Marcos Court’ like before,” Monsod Thursday told the Inquirer by phone, referring to the pliant high court during Ferdinand Marcos’ dictatorship.
“Now we have an ‘Arroyo Court’ that is especially accommodating to the wishes of the President. The reputation and independence of the Supreme Court has suffered a great deal. It’s a pity. They tarnished their image,” he said.
Dean Marvic Leonen of the University of the Philippines’ College of Law on Wednesday said that the ruling “created a confusion” on the clear constitutional ban on appointments “where there was none.”
He also argued that the 90-day period for appointing the next Chief Justice from May 17 could still be respected even if the next President assumed the responsibility of making the appointment.
If the next President assumes the presidency on June 30, he or she will still have more than 40 days to appoint the next Chief Justice, Leonen said.
Monsod also said that as far as he could recall, there was discussion about exemptions to the ban on presidential midnight appointments during the commission’s proceedings.
“It’s amusing because the Supreme Court added an exemption when there is none. There was no ambiguity in the Constitution; the ambiguity is in the mind of the justices,” he said.
In a text message to the Inquirer, Makati Business Club chair Ramon del Rosario Jr. said the credibility and independence of the Supreme Court was put “in serious question” by its Tuesday ruling on Ms Arroyo’s prerogative to appoint the next Chief Justice.
“It is also an ominous sign of more possible perversity,” Del Rosario said.
The Cebu City chapter of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) also expressed suspicion and alarm over the high court’s ruling.
“The integrity and independence of the Supreme Court are put in doubt with this recent decision,” IBP-Cebu City president Michael Yu said in an interview on Wednesday.
Yu said he and his colleagues were standing firm on their position that under the Constitution, the President could not make appointments within 60 days before the election and until her term ends on June 30.
Laying the ground
In a text message, Yu said the public should be vigilant and pray that Ms Arroyo would respect the Constitution.
Added Yu: “The events of the past months saw our leader appointing a new Armed Forces chief bypassing other senior officers … and an Army chief coming from her adopted Class of 1978 of the Philippine Military Academy. The Supreme Court justices are all her appointees. The congressmen are her allies and [there are] many other pro-administration events, as if laying the ground work for her perpetuation in power. I hope not.”
Ask the justices
And if the decision becomes final and Ms Arroyo appoints the next Chief Justice, how would Malacañang dispel perception that the justices owed their appointments to her were thus indebted?
Said Saludo: “You are challenging the independence of the justices. Why don’t you put the question to them, not to the Palace? It is their independence that these critics are questioning, not the Palace.”
Saludo said Ms Arroyo had so far not indicated preference for any of Puno’s possible successors.
“The proper first step is the JBC (Judicial Bar and Council). Let’s await [its] position,” he said.
Ruling not unanimous
Midas Marquez, the Supreme Court administrator and spokesperson, said the high tribunal had asked the JBC for the short list of its nominees, from which Ms Arroyo will select the next Chief Justice.
He said the JBC could be cited for contempt if it defied the high court.
Marquez also said the ruling was not as unanimous as some quarters wanted it to appear.
“They have different opinions. We always hear about 9-1-2-3, but even the nine justices were not unanimous. Five of them said the election ban does not cover all appointments in the judiciary, and four said what is not being covered is the appointment in the Supreme Court only,” he said.
Marquez said the conclusions were based on a careful study of the case.
He urged those opposed to the ruling to trust the high court to resolve the issue. With reports from Jhunnex Napallacan, Inquirer Visayas; Jeffrey M. Tupas, Inquirer Mindanao; Abigail L. Ho; and Gil C. Cabacungan Jr.