JBC nominates Corona
By Edu Punay
The Philippine Star
MANILA, Philippines – Senior Associate Justice Renato Corona and three other contenders for chief justice are in the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC)’s shortlist to be sent to President Arroyo tomorrow.
The eight-member collegial body led by retiring Chief Justice Reynato Puno decided to submit the shortlist with the names of four candidates – Corona, Supreme Court Associate Justices Teresita Leonardo-de Castro and Arturo Brion, and Sandiganbayan acting Presiding Justice Edilberto Sandoval – following an SC decision last month allowing the President to appoint Puno’s successor.
This developed as the Supreme Court (SC) said yesterday that the President could not appoint a new chief justice until a vacancy is created, which is on May 17.
The statement was issued in reaction to a Malacañang pronouncement that the President would appoint Puno’s replacement before the elections on May 10. A court spokesman said Puno did not intend to retire before May 17.
Corona, De Castro and Brion each got the unanimous nod of members of the JBC with eight votes, while Sandoval got seven.
Apart from Puno, the other members of the JBC are Justice Secretary Alberto Agra, Sen. Francis Escudero, Rep. Matias Defensor Jr., retired SC Justice Regino Hermosisima Jr., University of Sto. Tomas dean emeritus Amado Dimayuga, Justice Aurora Santiago Lagman and Integrated Bar of the Philippines representative J. Conrado Castro.
Castro, who missed the meeting but submitted his vote to Puno before leaving for a vacation abroad, did not vote for Sandoval.
All four nominees submitted themselves to the screening process of JBC and attended the public interview in Baguio City last April 19.
The JBC did not include two other nominees for the post – Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and Associate Justice Conchita Carpio-Morales –who manifested their lack of interest in the post due to their stand that Mrs. Arroyo is not allowed by the Constitution to make the appointment.
In a press conference, SC spokesman Midas Marquez explained that the JBC opted to submit the shortlist to the Palace on May 5 so as to give the Philippine Bar Association (PBA) a chance to pursue its second appeal on the March 17 ruling of SC in today’s last full court session before the magistrates take a recess for the elections next week.
“The JBC is bending backwards for PBA. But the JBC can’t wait forever. If they failed to file that second motion for reconsideration before 9 a.m. or if it would be noted without action, then the JBC will submit the shortlist on Wednesday,” he stressed.
“The JBC does not see the need to delay these proceedings any further,” he added.
Marquez also rebuffed a reported statement of the Palace that Mrs. Arroyo would make the appointment before the automated elections on May 10.
“I don’t see how a chief justice can be appointed when the position is not yet vacant. There can’t be two chief justices at the same time. When there’s no vacancy there can be no appointment made,” he stressed.
The SC official also assured the public that Puno would not leave the SC until his retirement on May 17.
“Whoever will succeed can’t even take his oath while the retiring chief justice is still around,” added Marquez.
However, he admitted that the period for the appointment by Mrs. Arroyo was not touched in the SC ruling because “it was not an issue.”
Marquez said he does not know what the basis of deputy presidential spokesman Gary Olivar was in suggesting the appointment of the next chief justice before election day: “We leave it up to them.”
In a decision last March 17, the SC ruled that positions in the High Court are exempted from the ban on midnight appointments under Article VII Section 15 of the Charter, giving Mrs. Arroyo the power to name the successor of Puno.
The Court, in a resolution last April 20, affirmed this ruling and junked motions for reconsideration filed by parties. Marquez said this made the SC decision final.
GMA to act quickly on shortlist
Meanwhile, President Arroyo would act quickly on the shortlist of candidates for chief justice once it is submitted by the JBC, Malacañang said yesterday.
Olivar also said Mrs. Arroyo would not be affected by last-ditch attempts to stop her from naming the successor of Chief Justice Puno.
“Since all four names have been floated for a while now, this has given the President a head start in arriving at a well-considered choice from among these eminently qualified candidates,” Olivar told a news briefing.
“We can expect a decision soon,” he said.
He said ideally Puno’s successor should be named before the elections this coming Monday because of the possible filing of electoral protests before the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET) that would be headed by the chief justice.
Olivar hit the groups planning to file another motion for reconsideration before the SC, saying they could have some hidden agenda.
“Why are they insisting (on blocking Mrs. Arroyo to appoint the chief justice) when the SC already ruled twice against them? She is stepping down so there is no debt of gratitude. Maybe they want to install their own chief justice who will be indebted to them,” he said.
SC will be tainted if GMA appoints next CJ
Rep. Satur Ocampo of the militant party-list group Bayan Muna yesterday said that the SC will be tainted if President Arroyo appoints next chief justice.
He said people would call the tribunal an “Arroyo Court.”
Ocampo lamented that the JBC, which is supposed to be an independent body, apparently gave in to the prodding of Malacañang for it to submit its shortlist of nominees for the next chief justice.
“Mrs. Arroyo will appoint anyone who will have a debt of gratitude to her and her administration and hence shield her from legal accountability when the time comes for her to face charges for her crimes committed in office,” he said.
Even if Carpio is included in the JBC list, there are speculations that Mrs. Arroyo prefers Corona to him. Carpio wrote the October 2006 court decision junking the administration’s Charter change campaign through the people’s initiative mode, labeling it as a “gigantic fraud” and a “grand deception.”
Several groups, including lawyers’ organizations, have urged Corona to back out of the nomination process for next chief justice because of his close association with Mrs. Arroyo and the fact that his wife has been appointed by the President as an officer in a state corporation.
Meanwhile, Bagumbayan presidential bet Sen. Richard Gordon yesterday said that although he personally does not agree with the appointment of the new chief justice by Mrs. Arroyo before she steps down next month, he respects the decision of the SC.
PMP Senate bets tell GMA to give successor chance to appoint new CJ
Meanwhile, four senatorial candidates of the Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino (PMP) yesterday said that President Arroyo should give the next president the chance to appoint a new chief justice.
In an interview with STAR editors, lawyer JV Bautista said there is a need for a “new dispensation” both in the national government and the Supreme Court.
Bautista, running under President Estrada’s political party PMP, said the justices of the High Court who signed the resolution favoring the contention that Arroyo has the authority to appoint the new Chief Justice “lack a sense of delicadeza.”
He said the interpretation of the Supreme Court justices’ on the Constitution is what prevails today.
“I think what is lacking there is the sense of delicadeza among the members of the Supreme Court. If you will check on the records of those who favored the ruling that Arroyo has the authority to appoint the new chief justice is that they are the most recent appointees of the president,” Bautista said.
For his part, former senator Francisco Tatad said there’s no need to interpret the Constitution to guide and enlighten the justices in their ruling on the authority of the President to appoint the new chief justice during the 90-day ban on appointments before the election.
“What you need is to read the Constitution correctly. You don’t have to interpret the Constitution. The Constitution is very clear. The vacancy has to be filled within 90 days, fill up the vacancy before the 90 days ban,” Tatad said.
PMP senatorial candidate Rodolfo “Jun” Lozada said the High Tribunal can elect an acting chief justice from among themselves.
“The justices have probably been pressured. It’s payback time for debt of gratitude. The SC justices should appoint a chief justice, but they come up with the ruling probably because they are forced to pay back their debt of gratitude,” Lozada said.
Of the four, only Senate President Pro Tempore Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada gave a submissive statement to the High Court’s ruling.
“We can stage rallies and so forth. But we cannot really do anything about it anymore. The Supreme Court is the court of last resort,” Estrada said. With Paolo Romero, Jess Diaz, Jose Rodel Clapano