Libran Cabactulan

Arroyo to use SC nod for new appointments

Arroyo to use SC nod for new appointments
By Dona Pazzibugan, Christine Avendaño
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—Expect President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to issue more midnight appointments—to both the judiciary and executive positions.

With the recent Supreme Court ruling allowing her to appoint the next Chief Justice two months before the May 10 elections, Ms Arroyo will continue to fill up vacancies in the judiciary until her last day in office on June 30, said acting Justice Secretary Alberto Agra.

Agra also said it was possible that Malacañang would announce more appointments in the executive department even though the ban had taken effect on March 10.

“Yes, it’s possible,” he told reporters Monday. “I have no information how many would be issued.”

These appointments are legal so long as they are dated before March 10, he said.

Executive Secretary Leandro Mendoza Monday said Ms Arroyo had completed the reorganization of the executive department, but later announced the appointment of Ambassador Libran Cabactulan to replace Hilario Davide Jr., as the country’s representative to the United Nations.

Davide tendered his resignation effective April 1 so he could campaign for his son who is running for Cebu governor in the May balloting.

Agra, the concurrent solicitor general, used the Supreme Court’s March 17 ruling to justify Ms Arroyo’s intention to go on appointing vacancies in the judiciary beyond March 10.

The 15-member tribunal voted 9-1 to allow Ms Arroyo to appoint Chief Justice Reynato Puno’s successor when he retires on May 17, reversing a 1988 doctrine and exempting the Supreme Court from the ban.

One justice dissented while two said the case was still premature. Puno, the acknowledged constitutional expert, and the two most senior justices who are vying for Chief Justice inhibited themselves from the case.

Of the nine justices, five said the exemption covered the entire judiciary, while four justices were content to exempt only the Supreme Court.

JBC screening candidates

For the first time since the ruling, Agra said Malacañang would use the decision to justify further appointments.

He said the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) would continue to process candidates for other vacancies in the judiciary and submit nominees to Ms Arroyo.

Agra, who sits in the JBC as ex-officio member, dismissed the clarification by court spokesperson Midas Marquez that due to the 5-5 vote (if the dissent is included) the decision did not establish a new doctrine whether the entire judiciary was exempted from the ban.

“That’s a non-issue,” Agra said. “If ever it’s questioned we’re prepared to respond,” he said.

Agra also cited exceptions to the midnight appointments ban for the executive.

“The ban covers only permanent appointments in the executive branch,” he went on, claiming that “temporary appointments” are still allowed for coterminous government appointees like Cabinet secretaries.

Section 15 Article VII prohibits the President from making appointments starting two months before the elections “except temporary appointments to executive positions when continued vacancies therein will prejudice public service or endanger public safety.”

Ibazeta case

Agra said only positions with fixed terms such as those in constitutional commissions are covered by the ban.

He said energy department officer in charge Jose Ibazeta was appointed on March 26 because it was only then that Angelo Reyes resigned as energy secretary to be nominee of the party-list group 1-Utak.

Agra shrugged off suggestions that appointment papers could simply be antedated before March 10 to comply with the Constitution. “No, because that would be a violation of the law,” he said.

He said the flurry of new appointments were only made known recently because “they are only being transmitted now.”

Agra said the ban did not prohibit “transmittals, turnover and oath-taking” beyond March 10.

He also said the ban did not extend to “designation, detail, transfer and reassignment” of government officials. He defined designation as giving additional work.

Agra also claimed the ban did not cover appointments of “contractual and casual” government personnel “because what the ban proscribes are permanent appointments.”

And last, he said, the ban did not cover officials of government corporations elected by their respective boards based on their charters.

“It’s clearly not a form of appointment, so election could be had even after the ban,” he said.

Timely and legitimate

Mendoza insisted that Ms Arroyo’s appointments constituted a “timely and legitimate exercise” of her authority.

“We hope that our people will see through all the political noise and understand that the President is simply doing what she has always done—leading our country based only on considerations of performance and posterity, never popularity,” he told reporters.

Defending Ms Arroyo’s dismissal of former Foreign Secretary Delia Albert as ambassador to Germany, Mendoza said that the action was “simply the replacement of one political appointee with another,” referring to business tycoon Alfonso Yuchengco, 87, a former envoy.

Albert joined Mendoza’s news briefing to deny rumors that she was recalled to show displeasure over German concerns about the integrity of the upcoming elections.

“It’s a pity that one puts together an international relationship with a domestic issue. And I think this is a no-no in foreign relations,” she said.

Unbecoming treatment

Albert said she came home last week to get an award from the President as well as to ask her about news that she was going to lose her posting.

“I thought I would confirm it with the President because she’s the appointing power and as a political appointee, I report and respect what the decision is,” she said.

Saying she had no ill feelings toward her removal, she said she was a career diplomat and “I take things as they come.”

Former President Fidel Ramos slammed the Palace treatment of Albert as “unbecoming.”

“Do not just ignore the decades of faithful service of Secretary Albert and write them off with a stroke of a pen,” he said on his arrival from a business trip in Taiwan. With a report from Jerome Aning