Families of Maguindanao massacre victims seek Agra's disbarment

Families of Maguindanao massacre victims seek Agra’s disbarment
By Edu Punay
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – The families of the victims of the Maguindanao massacre last November yesterday sought the disbarment of Justice Secretary Alberto Agra for dismissing the murder charges against two prominent members of the Ampatuan clan.

Family members of 12 of the massacre victims, represented by lawyer Harry Roque, filed a complaint with the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) seeking the removal of Agra from the roll of attorneys.

Agra on Saturday ordered the dropping of murder charges against suspended Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan and Maguindanao Vice Gov. Akmad Ampatuan Sr.

The complainants argued that Agra’s decision to clear the two suspects in the massacre case violated Canon 1 of the IBP Code of Professional Responsibility.

Canon 1 states: “A lawyer shall uphold the Constitution, obey the laws of the land, and promote respect for law and legal processes.”

“Atty. Agra rendered his resolution even without requiring and hearing the comments of the complainants, in gross violation of the complainants’ constitutional rights to due process which demand that they be heard first before they are deprived of their rights. It is basic and elementary for any lawyer,” the complainants said.

“It was utterly unlawful, dishonest, deceitful, immoral, and certainly shameless to the legal profession that Agra proceeded to railroad his Resolution without consideration of the complainants’ right to be heard.”

The complainants said the Ampatuans’ petition for review should have been dismissed because the suspects failed to produce copies to the aggrieved parties.

Agra also earlier admitted that he did not follow the regular administrative procedure in reviewing cases when he dismissed the charges against the Ampatuans.

Under regular process, eight divisions of prosecutors will review the case and send their recommendations to the Justice secretary before a resolution is made.

Under this setting, the resolutions of state prosecutors shall be evaluated by two senior state prosecutors with an assistant chief state prosecutor who will oversee the review.

Their recommendations would be reviewed again by the chief state prosecutor before sending the resolution to the Justice secretary for approval.

Agra admitted a prosecutor drafted the resolution and submitted it to him.

“It (resolution) was drafted by a prosecutor and I took sole responsibility with this ruling,” Agra said.

He said Assistant Chief State Prosecutor Ricardo Fadullon and Chief State Prosecutor Claro Arellano disagree with his findings.

The IBP will now decide if it will forward the complaint to the Supreme Court (SC) for resolution.

The complaint was signed by Juliet Palor Evardo, Ma. Cipriana Gatchalian, Glenna Legarta, Jean Merisco, Catherine Nuñez, Noemi Parcon, Ramonita Salaysay, Editha Mirandilla Tiamzon, Erlyn Idalo Umpad.

The National Union of People’s Lawyers, in a statement, condemned Agra’s resolution, saying it “violated legal doctrines and principles on basic criminal procedure.”

“The move not only had further contributed to serious public doubts about the integrity of the entire Department of Justice (DOJ), it also grossly tainted the country’s criminal justice system in general,” said lawyer Edre Olalia, acting secretary-general of NUPL.

Citing the landmark case of Crespo vs. Mogul, the group said the trial court retains control over the prosecution of criminal cases. – With Paolo Romero

JBC meets today on chief justice selection

JBC meets today on chief justice selection
By Edu Punay
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – After getting the go-signal from the Supreme Court, the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) is set to continue today the nomination process for the position of chief justice in a meeting in Baguio City.

Justice Secretary Alberto Agra, ex-officio member of the JBC, said the collegial body would follow the order of the High Court to proceed with the screening of the six remaining candidates and prepare the shortlist of nominees to be submitted to President Arroyo.

Agra said they would ask Senior Associate Justices Antonio Carpio and Conchita Carpio–Morales to reconsider their positions.

The two justices accepted the nomination but said they would reject an appointment from President Arroyo because it would violate the constitutional ban on midnight appointments during the election period.

Agra said the two justices must reconsider their position in the light of the SC ruling allowing Mrs. Arroyo to appoint the next chief justice.

“If they keep their condition, I think they should not be included in the shortlist that will be submitted to the President,” Agra said.

Delisting the two would leave the other four nominees in the shortlist – Senior Associate Justice Renato Corona, Associate Justices Arturo Brion and Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, and Sandiganbayan Senior Justice Edilberto Sandoval.

The law requires at least three names in the shortlist to be submitted before the President.

Agra said another issue the JBC would resolve today is whether it would set public interviews to the candidates.

Agra noted each member of the judiciary who are candidates for the position of chief justice is traditionally exempted from the required public interviews for candidates.

All six contenders have already been interviewed by the JBC anyway before they were appointed to their respective posts in the judiciary, he explained.

Agra said the JBC would also decide on the allegations against some aspirants.

Agra said the panel could possibly decide to immediately start the selection process for the vacancy for the position of associate justice in the SC that would be left vacant by the appointment of the next chief magistrate upon the retirement of Chief Justice Reynato Puno on May 17.

Agra stressed the JBC would proceed in the nomination process since the position of chief justice is not covered by the constitutional ban on midnight appointments.

Agra added the JBC has not set a timeline for the deliberation, but gave assurance they will submit the shortlist on or before May 17.

Chief Justice Puno will preside over the JBC meeting as the body’s ex-officio chairman. Puno earlier inhibited from the deliberations since the process involves the appointment of his successor.

Apart from Puno and Agra, other members of the JBC include Sen. Francis Escudero, Quezon City Rep. Matias Defensor Jr., retired SC justice Regino Hermosisima Jr., University of Santo Tomas Dean Emeritus Amado Dimayuga, Justice Aurora Santiago-Lagman and lawyer J. Conrado Castro representing the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP).

The JBC earlier decided to await the ruling on the petitions before the SC on whether the President is allowed under the Constitution to appoint the next chief justice notwithstanding the ban on appointments during the election period.

By a vote of 9-1-3, the high court ruled the ban on appointments under Article VII Section 15 of the Constitution does not apply to positions in the SC.

In its comment, the JBC said it would submit to whatever ruling the SC would render on the case.

“Since the Honorable Supreme Court is the final interpreter of the Constitution, the JBC will be guided by its decision,” the JBC said.

‘Judicial indiscretion’

A senior lawmaker said the nine justices of the SC who allowed President Arroyo to appoint the next chief justice committed a “judicial indiscretion.”

Nueva Ecija Rep. Edno Joson said the 1987 Constitution does not have any ambiguity on this matter, reiterating the election ban two months prior to the May 10 polls until the end of Mrs. Arroyo’s term on June 30.

“I call it judicial indiscretion or grave abuse of discretion, which amounts to culpable violation of the Constitution, making them liable for impeachment,” Joson warned.

He said the March 17 ruling can also be considered another act of “judicial legislation,” like the SC decision that forced the House of Representatives to accommodate 32 more party-list representatives without budget allocations, which Joson claimed had modified an established party-list formula.

“They (SC) cannot change or modify constitutional commission’s intent and allude unto themselves sovereign powers. They cannot also be partisan or political in their decisions, otherwise, the essence of justice which is independence and integrity will be lost,” Joson stressed.

Joson claimed “only a miracle” can reverse the SC decision.

Former Ombudsman Simeon Marcelo earlier warned the SC ruling is tantamount to amending the 1987 Constitution.

Marcelo said the high court virtually altered the Constitution when it decided to rule in favor of Mrs. Arroyo in allowing her to appoint the next chief justice amid the constitutional ban.

“It is a very clear violation of the 1987 Constitution because of the absolute prohibition,” Marcelo said.

In a related development, more groups of lawyers submitted last minute appeals on the decision just before the Lenten break.

In two separate motions for reconsideration, the Philippine Bar Association (PBA) and chapters of the IBP in Southern Luzon and Eastern Visayas both argued that the High Court committed an error in directing the JBC to submit the shortlist of nominees.

The PBA argued the JBC, in submitting the shortlist, in effect allowed the President to “execute a culpable violation of the Constitution and the commission of an election offense” considering that “the constitutional ban on appointments is already in effect.”

Marcelo led a group of petitioners alleging the SC “violated the basic precepts of understanding and applying the Constitution.” –With Delon Porcalla

DepEd preparation in full swing for poll automation

DepEd preparation in full swing for poll automation
Manila Bulletin

The Department of Education continues to prepare for the successful conduct of the first automated elections by conducting a training/orientation among teachers, administrative and legal officers who will man the polls in the May 2010 national and local elections.

“We want to assure the public that our teachers and administrative personnel are fully prepared to carry out their electoral duties thoroughly, accurately and professionally,” said Education Secretary Mona Valisno.

According to Valisno, the orientation aims to educate DepEd administrative and legal officers on COMELEC’s general instructions for the members of the board of election inspectors (BEIs).

These officers will in turn cascade their learning and orient public school teachers who will serve as third member of the BEIs.

Valisno also expressed confidence that the teachers will be able to adjust to the new election procedure since many of them are already familiar with a similar optical scanning machine used in correcting answer sheets for the National College Entrance Examination (NCEE) and National Career Assessment Examination (NCAE).

“The entire department commits to this collective undertaking. The stakes are way too high and failure is not an option in this first fully automated election,” Valisno stressed.

During the orientation, Atty. Marcos Lauron, election officer of COMELEC Marikina delivered a lecture on the use of Precinct Count Optical Scanner (PCOS) machines.

On the other hand, DepEd Undersecretary Franklin Sunga discussed the general instructions for BEIs and other election matters.

The orientation also touched on Election Task Forces that will be established in DepEd Central Office and in different regional and division offices which will be specially created for the May 2010 elections.

DepEd and COMELEC have earlier signed an agreement that guarantees fair compensation for DepEd employees who will serve in the election.

The Integrated Bar of the Philippines has also agreed to provide free legal assistance to teachers who may face legal suits in the performance of election-related duties.

Critics urged to respect Supreme Court ruling on chief justice appointment

Critics urged to respect Supreme Court ruling on chief justice appointment
By Paolo Romero
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – Newly appointed Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Raoul Victorino urged opposition members and critics of the Supreme Court decision allowing President Arroyo to appoint the next chief justice to respect the ruling.

Victorino, a former member of the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) that screens appointees to the judiciary, said the SC is the final arbiter and interpreter of the Constitution.

“Everybody must respect the decision of the highest court of the land,” he said.

Deputy presidential spokesman Gary Olivar earlier chided those planning to stage protest actions against the SC decision, saying “they think they are better than the Supreme Court over constitutional issues.”

“What is worrisome about these kinds of movements is that they are slowly destroying the credibility and public perception of institutions like the Supreme Court,” Olivar said.

“Just because they didn’t have their way, they think they have the monopoly of truth and justice,” he said.

Palace officials, however, also said it was confident that attempts to agitate the people over the controversial decision would not lead to instability.

Deputy presidential spokesman Charito Planas also called on critics of the administration to bring their case to court instead of the streets as in the end, it would be still the SC that would resolve the matter.

“The members of the opposition do nothing but oppose so there will be no end to that,” Planas said in Filipino. “We should follow the rule of law. If we will not follow the Supreme Court, there will be trouble.”

Meanwhile, lawyer-members of the Baguio and Benguet chapter of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines “stormed” the Supreme Court in Baguio City yesterday to express outrage against “any midnight appointment” of the next Chief Justice.

Bearing placards and streamers denouncing any move to outskirt Constitutional stop gaps against appointment of the Chief Justice in 60 days before the end of the President’s term, lawyers brought with them a “wreath worthy for the dead” to symbolize the death of the integrity of the Supreme Court. – With Artemio Dumlao

The darker side of midnight

The darker side of midnight
By Raul Pangalangan
Philippine Daily Inquirer

THE POLITICAL RESULT OF THE SUPREME Court decision is clear enough. It allows President Macapagal-Arroyo to extend her influence beyond her term and buy some form of insurance, however limited, against future prosecution for the depredation committed under her watch.

My concern right now, however, is mainly academic and legal. The ban on midnight appointments is categorical enough (see my column of Jan. 22, 2010), yet how did the Supreme Court find its way to say that President Arroyo can appoint the next chief justice? Chief Justice Reynato Puno will retire on May 17, while the appointments ban already came into effect on March 10 and will stand until noon of June 30 when Ms Arroyo’s term expires.

First, the Court had to dispense with threshold questions of jurisdiction: whether the petitioners were the proper parties to raise issues (the question of standing) and whether it was premature to raise the issues (the question of ripeness) before a live dispute had been triggered off by Puno’s actual retirement.

There were many petitioners: several lawyers, the Philippine Constitution Association, a chapter of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, other lawyers’ groups, and persons identified with the party-list groups Bagong Alyansang Bayan and Akbayan. The Court held that they had “demonstrated [an] adequate interest in the outcome” and therefore had standing. It also said that there was a live dispute because the appointments process was already in full swing, because it begins with the proceedings by the Judicial and Bar Council.

Note that two justices, Eduardo Nachura and Arturo Brion, wrote separately to raise the question of ripeness and justiceability. Suffice it to say at this point that the trend in post-Edsa 1 SC decisions had been to unduly relax the traditional rules on standing and ripeness. Worse, each time the Court would dilute these doctrines in order to advance progressive causes, the gallery applauded. I have long been warning about the erosion of doctrine but the populist mood of the times lowers our guard “against the assaults of opportunism, the expediency of the passing hour … the derision of those who have no patience with general principles.”

On the merits, the Court held that the prohibition on midnight appointments by the President applied only to the Executive Branch and did not extend to judicial appointments. One, the Court reasoned on the basis of the structure and organization of the Constitution. It cited the positioning of the appointments ban, which is found in the article on the Executive Department, in contrast to the appointment of the CJ, which is found in the article on the Judicial Department. Two, the Court reversed an earlier ruling (the Valenzuela case), where it held the opposite view that the appointments ban applied to judicial appointments. The Court drew from the intent of the drafters on two points: The clause that any judicial “vacancy shall be filled within 90 days” is a command, and the appointments ban was never meant to cover judicial appointments. Indeed the Court relied on the opinion by retired Justice Florenz Regalado, one of the authors of the Constitution, who confirmed for the Court during the Valenzuela deliberations that the intent was to apply the appointments ban only to the Executive.

The dissenting opinion by Justice Conchita Carpio-Morales rejects the heuristic or interpretive value of the positioning and sequencing of constitutional clauses. The “trivialities of draftsmanship style” are “entitled to very little weight … the weight of helium.” She also cites the drafters’ debates to show the drafters were aware that the mischief caused by midnight appointments applied equally to judicial appointments. Although the JBC has been created as a check on presidential powers, it does not obviate the usefulness of the appointments ban.

The Court also rejected the practical argument that there is ample time left, after the appointments ban expires on June 30, for the new president to appoint, 45 days to be exact. The Court said prudently that it is laying down an interpretation not just for the Puno vacancy, but for future situations as well where it might be impossible for the president to appoint a new justice without violating either of the two rules. (Carpio-Morales offered a more simple formula: the running of the 90-day period to appoint is tolled by the appointments ban.)

I think the majority opinion was at its strongest legally where it was weakest historically. The old Valenzuela ruling “will tie the Judiciary and the Supreme Court to the fortunes or misfortunes of political leaders vying for the Presidency …. [T]he wisdom of having the new President … appoint the next Chief Justice is itself suspect and cannot ensure judicial independence.” That is to say, if we are really serious about making sure that the Court is not beholden to the new president, then why wait for the new president to appoint him? Indeed.

But read on. “In contrast, the appointment by the incumbent President [read: Arroyo] does not run the same risk of compromising judicial independence, precisely because her term will end by June 30, 2010.”

Precisely the point. We shouldn’t be blind to history. Since her term ends by June 30, with more reason she would want to prolong her influence, if not her reign, especially given the illicit billions that have been purloined from the public coffers.

* * *

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Palace: Naming CJ will protect post in case of poll protest

Palace: Naming CJ will protect post in case of poll protest
By TJ Burgonio
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—Malacañang said appointing a “full-fledged” Chief Justice in an election season would protect the post in the event that any of the presidential or vice presidential candidates filed an electoral protest.

“We do have these elections and, therefore, in the event that the Supreme Court shall have to act as a Presidential Electoral Tribunal, it would be best for a sitting, confirmed, you know, actual, full-fledged Chief Justice to be in charge,” Secretary Ricardo Saludo, Ms Arroyo’s spokesperson, said at a briefing.

Despite arguments by legal experts raising the purported ambiguity of the high court’s ruling, the President will name Chief Justice Reynato Puno’s successor, Saludo said.

“This is a constitutional duty. Assuming that the court’s decision shall be final and executory … whatever the critics might say, whatever doubts it may engender in the minds of certain people, the President shall still have to fulfill her duty. There is no way around it,” he said.

“I don’t know what delicadeza they’re saying,” he added in response to suggestions that the President exercise propriety on the matter. “I do not see a line in the Constitution saying that delicadeza should stop the implementation of the Constitution.”

Besides, Saludo said, appointing the next Chief Justice would preclude a situation where any of the presidential candidates in a protest case could coax an acting Chief Justice to rule in his or her favor with the promise of a permanent appointment later.
Bargaining chip

“There are some people who have even expressed the concern—this was just mentioned to me; this is not a Palace position—that if the position of Chief Justice is not filled, then we may get into a situation where that position will become a bargaining chip in the event of an election protest,” Saludo said.

“Do you understand what I’m saying?” he asked reporters. “If the position is not filled, the next President will appoint him. Well, [What if] the next President is a subject of protest? Do you understand? I mean, I’m repeating a scenario that others have told me. I don’t know whether that scenario is realistic, but it’s a concern that people have expressed.”

Puno is retiring on May 17, a week after the national elections.

File a motion

Saludo advised critics of the high court’s ruling to raise their arguments in a motion for reconsideration.

Supreme Court administrator and spokesperson Midas Marquez said that those opposed to the ruling had ample time to submit such a motion.

He said Ms Arroyo could only appoint the next Chief Justice on May 17.

“I hope they file [the motion for reconsideration] right away so that a decision can be had right away, and the case can be terminated,” Marquez said during a stopover of the Justice on Wheels in Mati, Davao Oriental.

The IBP-Davao del Sur chapter said it was ready to file a motion for consideration at any time.

Its president, Israelito Torreon, said it was clear that there was a “blanket prohibition” under the Constitution against presidential appointments within the given period.

Saludo said “the good thing is, nobody is saying that they would disobey the ruling.”

He said the government had “a strong case” but that it would be premature for Malacañang to say whether the ruling would be upheld or overturned.

Saludo conceded that it would have been easier for Ms Arroyo to make the appointment if this did not come close to the May 10 elections.

“Well, it’s an important and weighty decision, that’s for sure, and very controversial. Whether it’s the most important decision, well, I cannot read the future. I don’t know what’s going to happen between now and June. But hopefully, there won’t be anything graver than this. I mean, I hope we don’t have some major security crisis,” he said.

JBC to resume process but urged to be independent

JBC to resume process but urged to be independent
By Jerome Aning
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—The Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) will resume the nomination process for the selection of Chief Justice Reynato Puno’s successor, acting Justice Secretary Alberto Agra said Thursday.

Agra said the JBC had no choice but to comply with the Supreme Court ruling that it submit the short list of nominees to Malacañang on or before May 17, the day Puno retires. In the ruling issued on Tuesday, nine of the 15 justices voted to authorize President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to name the next Chief Justice.

But Sen. Francis Pangilinan, who served as the Senate representative to the JBC from 2001 to 2008, said it should exercise independence from the Supreme Court by asking the latter to reconsider its ruling authorizing Ms Arroyo to name Puno’s successor.

Agra said he did not know whether the JBC could convene in the next few weeks to produce a short list. He pointed out that Puno, its chair, was on vacation and would return to work only next month.

“We don’t have a decision yet as to the next step we will take. We at JBC don’t have a vice chair. But maybe we could appoint among ourselves the acting presiding officer,” Agra told the Philippine Daily Inquirer by phone.

Asked if the JBC would submit its short list to the Palace before the May 10 elections, he said: “We don’t have a timeline. [But] my personal view is that we will finish the process soon.”

JBC members

Section 8 (1) Article VIII of the 1987 Constitution states that the JBC is “created under the supervision of the Supreme Court,” and is made up of the Chief Justice as ex officio chair, the justice secretary and a representative each of the Senate and the House as ex officio members, and a representative of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP), a law professor, a retired justice of the high court and a representative of the private sector.

Apart from Puno, the current members of the JBC are Agra, Quezon City Rep. Matias Defensor Jr. and Sen. Francis Escudero as ex officio members, and retired Justice Regino Hermosisima Jr., law dean Amado Dimayuga, Justice Aurora Santiago Lagman (private sector representative) and J. Conrado P. Castro (IBP representative).

A lawyer has called on Hermosisima to inhibit himself from the JBC’s nomination process for the next Chief Justice due to his perceived loyalty to the Arroyo administration.

Agra, who was named acting justice secretary early this month, said he had attended a meeting of the JBC only once. He said two other meetings had been scheduled but that the agenda items relayed to him only pertained to interviews for other vacancies in the judiciary.

He also said JBC members could probably decide whether they still had to interview applicants to the post of chief justice. But he added that all of the applicants were interviewed by the JBC when they applied for lower positions in the judiciary.

Carpio, Morales’ stand

Agra said the JBC would be interested to know if there was any change in the position of two of the nominees—Associate Justices Antonio Carpio and Conchita Carpio-Morales—who had said that if and when they were chosen, they would accept the appointment only from the next President.

“They had conditions attached to their nomination. We may have to ask them what would be their new position now that there is a Supreme Court decision—if they will withdraw their acceptance of the nomination. I want this to be clarified,” he said.

Asked if there was anything else in the high court’s ruling that the JBC might want clarified, Agra said there was an “ambiguity” in the position of five justices who said the ban on midnight appointments by an outgoing President did not cover the entire judiciary.

The Inquirer sought comments from the offices of Carpio and Morales, but their staffs said none was forthcoming. The staff of Morales pointed out that the high court’s ruling was not yet final and executory.

At the Usaping Balita News Forum, Congressman Defensor said the JBC would have to include Carpio and Morales in the short list of nominees for Chief Justice.

Defensor, who chairs the House committee on justice, said “there is still that possibility” that Ms Arroyo would not name Puno’s successor, and that keeping the two justices on the list would give them a chance to be selected by the next President.

He did not say why Ms Arroyo would shy away from naming a new Chief Justice.

Defensor said the JBC could list up to six nominees, to include Carpio, Morales, Associate Justices Renato Corona, Teresita Leonardo-de Castro and Arturo Brion, and Sandiganbayan Associate Justice Edilberto Sandoval.

Hermosisima not yet confirmed

In a letter to the JBC dated March 9, lawyer Nestor Leynes III said Hermosisima’s appointment to the council had yet to be confirmed by the Commission on Appointments.

Leynes said the 82-year-old Hermosisima was only serving the JBC in an acting capacity on the basis of Ms Arroyo’s ad interim appointment that she could revoke at any time.

“As such, this serves as a sort of Sword of Damocles that hangs over his head, making him vulnerable to succumb to the wishes of the appointing power,” Leynes said.

He observed that Hermosisima was serving in the JBC on an unprecedented fourth term, having been appointed thrice by Ms Arroyo.

“It is not unreasonable to conclude that the repeated appointments of Honorable Justice Hermosisima by President Arroyo may have taken a toll on his independence. It may have rendered him deeply beholden to the appointing authority and could have deeply compromised his impartiality,” Leynes said.

JBC not under SC control

Pangilinan said the JBC should vote as a collegial body on the ruling. If a vote opposing the ruling emerges, it should file a motion for consideration with the high court, he said.

“The JBC, while under the supervision of the Supreme Court, is not under its control when it comes to its powers to screen nominees and submit the list of nominees to Malacañang,” Pangilinan said in a statement.

“The JBC is not, and never should be, a rubber stamp of the Supreme Court. It should vote on the issue and make its stand known to the public,” he said. With reports from Gil C. Cabacungan Jr., TJ Burgonio and Inquirer Research

SC as ‘Arroyo Court’ tarnishes image, stirs confusion

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.

Creating confusion

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.

‘Ominous sign’

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.

Ruling elates Palace; absurdly shocking, critics lament

Ruling elates Palace; absurdly shocking, critics lament
By Christine Avendaño, Dona Pazzibugan, Kristine L. Alave
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—Malacañang was predictably elated by the Supreme Court ruling allowing President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to appoint the next Chief Justice, but former Ombudsman Simeon Marcelo described it as “shocking” and “disturbing.”

For Commission on Elections (Comelec) chair Jose Melo, a retired Supreme Court justice, the ruling was detrimental to the court and could ruin the collegiality of the body.

It could have been more prudent for the court to delay the decision since it concerned a matter that was “advisory” in nature, Melo told reporters Wednesday.

“What if the President did not exercise her appointment? They broke their heads over nothing. What happened was that the justices were put in a difficult position,” the poll chief said.

According to Marcelo, president of the Philippine Bar Association (PBA), the Constitution clearly prohibits midnight appointments by the outgoing president. He said he and his colleagues would file a motion for reconsideration.

“It’s a shocking development,” Marcelo said when sought for comment. “The Constitution is very clear: It’s an absolute ban on the President … Kalokohan yun (It’s absurd to say) that the ban does not apply to the Chief Justice post.”

The President will make the appointment as soon as the ruling becomes final and executory, her spokesperson Ricardo Saludo told reporters at a briefing.

“On behalf of the nation, we thank our esteemed justices of the Supreme Court for deciding this contentious issue in the name of justice and the rule of law,” Saludo said, adding in a statement that the Palace expected the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) to “also be guided by the landmark decision.”

In a separate statement, Ms Arroyo’s election lawyer Romulo Macalintal issued the reminder that it was “everybody’s duty to abide by and respect” the ruling.

“The court has interpreted the provisions of the Constitution which will serve as guide not only for the present but also the future, when the next president is confronted with a similar issue,” Macalintal said.

He called on everyone to “move on and not be held hostage on a purely legal issue which is sprinkled with some political colors.”

“Let’s free the judiciary from political intramurals,” he said.

1st time it happens

But Marcelo pointed out that the Supreme Court already set a precedent in 1998 when it nullified then outgoing President Fidel Ramos’ appointment of Regional Trial Court Judges Mateo Valenzuela and Placido Vallarta shortly before the elections on grounds that the judiciary was covered by the appointments ban.

“[The decision] was sought by President Ramos on the issue of an appointment of a justice in the Supreme Court, and the Constitution is clear that the prohibition is general,” Marcelo said, recalling that in 1998, the JBC rejected Ramos’ request to submit a short list so that he could appoint a replacement for then Associate Justice Ricardo Francisco.

Marcelo also recalled that in 1992, the JBC also did not submit a short list to then outgoing President Corazon Aquino for the replacement of Associate Justice Ameurfina Herrera, and waited until after the assumption of office of the next President.

“This is the first time it will happen and it’s very disturbing especially since the wording of the Constitution is very categorical. I don’t know how they can defend this position in the bar of public opinion,” he said.

He also expressed surprise that the justices issued a ruling on such a major controversy within a month after the original petitions were filed, and without asking for oral arguments before the full court.

Political crisis

Dean Marvic Leonen of the University of the Philippines’ College of Law warned of a political crisis if Ms Arroyo proceeds to appoint the next Chief Justice on May 17—the date of Chief Justice Reynato Puno’s retirement—even if there is already a president-elect.

“The president-elect will not allow that to happen. So what will the next president say?” he said.


In a separate interview, Leonen said: “It’s a sad day for checks and balances. It’s a sad day for judicial independence. It’s a sad day for those that want to wish that the next administration would have a freer hand, uninfluenced by a President that has led for nine years [under which] we have the phenomenon of the entire Supreme Court, all 15, being appointed by [her].”

Leonen said the justices “confused” the public on the ban on appointments and failed to consider their ruling’s repercussions on the “distribution of powers” in the Constitution.

He said the Constitution and jurisprudence were clear that the President could not make any appointment before the elections and until the end of her term.

By declaring that the constitutional ban applied only to appointments in the executive branch, the judiciary has made constitutional commissions “subservient to an outgoing president,” Leonen said.

The Davao Del Sur chapter of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP)—which, like the PBA, had filed an intervention and opposition with the high court, said it would also file a motion for reconsideration.

“The blanket prohibition under the 1987 Constitution to the President to make appointments within the prohibitory period is [so] clear that it does not even require an interpretation but application. The rule of law must prevail and not the dictates or whims of a fading but infamous regime,” said Israelito Torreon, the immediate past president of IBP-Davao del Sur.

Look into Arroyo motive

Caloocan Bishop Deogracias Iñiguez, who chairs the public affairs committee of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, said the ruling should be respected because the high court was the supreme interpreter of the law.

But he said there was a need to look into the motive behind the move to get the President to appoint the next Chief Justice.

The chair of the House committee on justice said the JBC would submit its short list of nominees to the President by April, well before Puno retires on May 10.

Quezon City Rep. Matias Defensor said he did not see any legal impediment for the JBC to continue its selection process.

“It’s a landmark decision that puts to rest the seemingly conflicting provisions of the Constitution,” said Defensor, a JBC member who wrote to ask the council in December to start drawing up the list to prevent a vacuum in the highest judicial post in view of the coming May election.

Liberal Party senatorial bet Franklin Drilon said that he was standing by his position that the next president and not President Arroyo should name Puno’s replacement.

“While my appeal would likely be ignored or a ‘suntok sa buwan,’ it is anchored on my genuine concern that the Supreme Court as the final arbiter in our judicial system should be able to maintain its image of independence and integrity as we transition to the next administration,” Drilon said in a statement.

Some presidential candidates were quick to express their opinions on the high court’s ruling.

Villar et al.

Sen. Manuel Villar of the Nacionalista Party told reporters that he was “saddened” by it. Villar said he was to meet with his lawyers Wednesday night to discuss a course of action.

Sen. Benigno Aquino III of the Liberal Party questioned how the high court could cite the constitutional provisions that had remained unchanged since 1987, and then interpret, decide on and issue a completely different pronouncement en banc.

“Is this because it is now packed with Arroyo appointees? Is this the kind of justice in the ways of the current leadership? I think this is unjust,” Aquino said, adding that he doubted whether the high court would reverse its stand.


Like Villar, Sen. Richard Gordon of the Bagumbayan party said he was “saddened” by the ruling.

“I think it is also premature because there is no vacancy [in the Chief Justice post] yet,” said Gordon, who is also a lawyer.

Gordon said the justices could just appoint among themselves an acting Chief Justice, as is the usual practice.

He said the high court was already “fully loaded” that the absence of just one justice would not ruin its operations.

If Ms Arroyo appoints the next Chief Justice, the high court will be a “GMA-appointed court,” Gordon added. With reports from TJ Burgonio, Leila B. Salaverria, Michael Lim Ubac, Edson C. Tandoc Jr. and Gil C. Cabacungan Jr.

Supreme Court asked to prevent appointment of new chief justice

Supreme Court asked to prevent appointment of new chief justice
By Edu Punay
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine Bar Association (PBA) has asked the Supreme Court (SC) to prevent President Arroyo from appointing the successor of Chief Justice Reynato Puno, who retires on May 17.

In a 46-page petition, the PBA sought the issuance of a writ of prohibition enjoining Mrs. Arroyo from naming the next chief justice should the Court allow the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) to submit the shortlist of nominees to her despite a constitutional ban on midnight appointments that already started last March 10.

It was the first petition that named the President as respondent.

Several petitions with exactly the same arguments have been filed with the High Court but only sought prohibition of the JBC from submitting the shortlist and mere declaration that the President is not allowed by law to appoint the next chief justice.

The lawyers’ group led by former Ombudsman Simeon Marcelo said Mrs. Arroyo and the JBC must be prevented from “committing acts in violation of the law and the Constitution.”

As in earlier petitions, the PBA reiterated the popular argument that Article VII Section 15 of the Constitution bars the President from making midnight appointments two months immediately preceding the May 10 elections and until her term expires on June 30 – a period covering Puno’s retirement date.

The group argued that the appointment of the new chief justice by Mrs. Arroyo within the election appointments ban “constitutes an election offense punishable under the Omnibus Election Code – nomination being part of the appointment process.”

They also alleged that the JBC “acts in contravention of the letter and spirit of the constitutional provision against midnight appointments” in continuing the nomination process with the view of submitting the shortlist to Mrs. Arroyo.

The continuous nomination process at the JBC “amounts to lack or excess of its jurisdiction, or grave abuse of discretion, considering that there is yet no vacancy for the position of Chief Justice of the Honorable Court,” added the PBA, the oldest voluntary national organization of lawyers in the country.

Earlier, petitions of the Philippine Constitution Association (Philconsa) and lawyers Arturo de Castro and Estelito Mendoza asked the Court to compel the JBC to submit a shortlist to Mrs. Arroyo from where she will choose the replacement of Puno.

Several petitioners, including chapters of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP), have opposed the petitions and filed separate interventions and oppositions.

The JBC has opted to await ruling on the consolidated petitions before deciding when it would submit the shortlist of final nominees to the Palace.

The JBC moved to the next stage of the selection process, which includes public interviews of candidates and deliberation and even interview of constitutional experts if necessary.

It had already earlier solicited public comments on the six candidates for the chief justice post: Senior Associate Justices Antonio Carpio and Renato Corona; Associate Justices Conchita Carpio-Morales, Arturo Brion and Teresita Leonardo-de Castro; and Sandiganbayan acting Presiding Justice Edilberto Sandoval.

The issue on the appointment of the successor of Chief Justice Puno has triggered legal and political debates as it is the first time under the 1987 Constitution when the retirement of the chief justice falls in the period covered by the election ban on appointments.