Midas Marquez

JBC nominates Corona

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

Palace can't appoint Sandigan chief – SC

Palace can’t appoint Sandigan chief – SC
By Edu Punay
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – The recent ruling of the Supreme Court (SC) allowing President Arroyo to appoint the next chief justice has effectively barred her from making midnight appointments to positions in the lower courts.

This was emphasized by court administrator and SC spokesman Midas Marquez who said that the rule prohibiting the appointment of judges and justices in appellate courts, based on the 1998 decision on the appointments of Judges Mateo Valenzuela and Placido Vallarta, still stands.

The SC on Tuesday upheld a March 17 ruling exempting the SC from the constitutional ban on midnight appointments. The ruling in effect gave the President the go-signal to appoint the successor of retiring Chief Justice Reynato Puno.

“This final decision of the court only covers appointments to the SC, not to the Sandiganbayan and positions in the lower courts,” Marquez explained.

He said the court rejected a government plea to exempt the entire judiciary from the ban.

“There are nine participating justices who voted to affirm the March 17 ruling. So in order to overturn Vallarta to exempt the entire judiciary from the ban on midnight appointment, there must be at least seven justices who would favor that the ban extend not only to SC but to the entire justices as well,” he said.

Marquez said five magistrates led by Associate Justice Lucas Bersamin voted to overturn the Valenzuela-Vallarta ruling.

The others were Justices Jose Perez, Roberto Abad, Martin Villarama Jr. and Teresita Leonardo-de Castro.

Four other justices, on the other hand, had taken the position that appellate and lower courts should not be covered by the exemption.

They were Associate Justices Arturo Brion, Jose Mendoza, Mariano del Castillo and Diosdado Peralta.

The top post in the Sandiganbayan became vacant following the death of Norberto Geraldez from pancreatic cancer complications barely a month after his appointment.

Senior Justice Edilberto Sandoval has been designated acting presiding justice of the anti-graft court.

Acquiescence

While aching to name the next chief justice, Malacañang said it would abide by the SC ruling against midnight appointments to the Sandiganbayan and the lower courts.

“The High Court has spoken, we would abide by it,” deputy presidential spokesman Gary Olivar said.

He said the Palace has also asked Justice Secretary Alberto Agra to respond to the summons of the SC to comment on questions regarding his concurrent position as Solicitor General.

“Our stand there is for Secretary Agra to comply with whatever the Supreme Court is asking him to explain or to do,” he said.

Olivar said President Arroyo would not knowingly make an illegal appointment in the case of Agra’s dual posts.

Senator’s appeal

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr., meanwhile, called on President Arroyo to inhibit from appointing Puno’s successor despite the SC ruling.

“There is still a remedy and that is for Gloria to inhibit herself from appointing the chief justice,” Pimentel said during the Kapihan sa Senado yesterday.

“The incumbent president who only has a few weeks remaining in power, out of prudence and delicadeza, should not take up the matter of appointing a new chief justice,” he added.

Pimentel reiterated his stand that the SC might have erred when it ruled in a majority decision that Mrs. Arroyo may appoint a new chief justice despite a constitutional ban on midnight appointments.

“It’s not a question whether the SC rules with finality, the question is whether the ruling of the SC is right or wrong and it should be defended by the SC publicly,” Pimentel added.

Pimentel, a veteran lawyer, maintained that the SC was “certainly wrong by the standards of the Constitution and of the law.”

He noted that the President may appoint people as long as she is president, but the appointment of the chief justice is not obligatory immediately after a vacancy.

“It will be very imprudent of the President to appoint a new chief justice considering the circumstances,” Pimentel said.

JBC list almost ready

President Arroyo will get the list of nominees for the incoming SC chief justice from the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) next month, Quezon City Rep. Matias Defensor said yesterday.

“There is no need to rush the submission of the list because Chief Justice Reynato Puno is retiring on May 17 yet,” he said.

Defensor sits in the council as representative of the House of Representatives, where he chairs the committee on justice.

He said most likely, the JBC would send the list to Mrs. Arroyo shortly before Puno retires.

He said the council would still have to vote on when to submit the list and who would be in it.

The council has interviewed four applicants for Puno’s job. They are Associate Justices Renato Corona, Arturo Brion and Teresita de Castro of the SC, and Sandiganbayan Justice Edilberto Sandoval.

Two other applicants – SC Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and Conchita Morales – have said they would not accept an appointment from Mrs. Arroyo.

The two said the President would be violating the constitutional ban on midnight appointments if she named Puno’s successor.

There are speculations that the President prefers Corona over Carpio, who is the most senior associate justice.

Defensor confirmed that Corona was almost in tears when he faced the JBC. On the day he was interviewed, the Philippine Bar Association came out with newspaper ads criticizing Corona and his wife, who is an appointee of Mrs. Arroyo in Camp John Hay in Baguio City.

“He felt that the criticisms were unfair, that he was happy with his family and that was all that mattered to him, that he did not need the job of chief justice,” Defensor said.

He revealed that he and his Senate counterpart in the JBC, Sen. Francis Escudero, would still push for the inclusion of Carpio and Morales in the JBC list.

“We should not preempt the President and her successor. Who knows, she might not exercise her right to appoint the next chief justice and leave it to the next president,” he said.

He said if Mrs. Arroyo does not exercise such right, her successor could not consider Carpio and Morales if their names are not in the JBC list.

“Remember that the President can appoint only from the list of nominees submitted by the JBC. So we have to include them in our list, just in case,” he added. Jess Diaz, Christina Mendez and Paolo Romero

It's final: GMA can pick next Supreme Court chief

It’s final: GMA can pick next Supreme Court chief
By Edu Punay
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – President Arroyo’s power to name the next chief justice was affirmed by the Supreme Court (SC), which ruled with finality on the case yesterday.

Nine justices voted to uphold their March 17 decision that the constitutional ban on midnight appointments does not apply to the SC.

Holding session in Baguio City, Associate Justices Lucas Bersamin, Jose Perez, Roberto Abad, Martin Villarama, Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, Arturo Brion, Diosdado Peralta, Jose Mendoza and Mariano del Castillo dismissed the arguments raised in the motions for reconsideration of various groups.

Justice Conchita Carpio-Morales dissented, while Chief Justice Reynato Puno and senior Justices Renato Corona and Antonio Carpio did not take part in the voting.

At Malacañang, deputy presidential spokesman Gary Olivar said the SC ruling will pave the way for the appointment of Puno’s successor after he retires on May 17.

Deputy presidential spokesman Rogelio Peyuan said Mrs. Arroyo would do what she deems is in the best interest of the country.

“If this is what is required of the President then she would do this especially since this was not her determination but this is what was contained in the decision of our Supreme Court,” he said in Filipino.

Jose Midas Marquez, court administrator and SC spokesman, said the majority of justices believe that the basic issues raised in the motions for reconsideration have been passed upon in the original decision.

“Given the background and rationale for the prohibition in Section 15, Article VII, we have no doubt that the Constitutional Commission confined the prohibition to appointments made in the executive department,” read the SC decision.

“The framers did not need to extend the prohibition to appointments in the judiciary, because their establishment of the JBC and their subjecting the nomination and screening of candidates for judicial positions to the unhurried and deliberate prior process of the JBC ensured that there would no longer be midnight appointments to the judiciary.”

However, the justices failed to come up with a doctrinal ruling on whether the exemption to the midnight appointment ban applies only to the SC or to the entire judiciary, Marquez said.

Justices Antonio Eduardo Nachura and Presbitero Velasco voted to grant the motions for reconsideration on the ground that the decision was premature.

Justice Carpio-Morales believed that Mrs. Arroyo cannot name the next chief justice based on the constitutional ban on midnight appointments.

Three resolutions were issued by the Court yesterday: one by Justice Bersamin, who penned the decision; another by Justice Brion, who concurred with the majority decision, but with a qualification; and the last one by Justice Carpio-Morales, who reiterated her dissent.

It was exactly the same voting as in the consolidated petitions of the Philippine Constitution Association and lawyers Arturo de Castro and Estelito Mendoza.

There was no majority vote as to the validity of the 1998 decision of the Court to void the appointments of Judges Mateo Valenzuela and Placido Vallarta to the regional trial courts for violating the constitutional ban on appointments during the election period.

The SC again gave weight to the government’s position that appointments in the SC cannot be considered midnight because of the nomination process in the Judicial and Bar Council.

It also agreed with the Office of the Solicitor General that the JBC does not have the power to withhold its list from the President.

Pimentel: JBC must stop screening CJ aspirants

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. urged the JBC yesterday to stop screening aspirants for the post of chief justice since the vacancy will only occur on May 17.

“The position of chief justice is not an executive position,” he said.

“And no temporary appointments may be made to that position. It is also a position in a collegial body whose functions would not be prejudiced even if for some time it is vacant.”

Pimentel said the Constitution clearly bans appointments by the President two months before the elections and up to the end of his or her term.

The only exceptions are temporary appointments to executive offices, he added.

Pimentel said while the post remains unfilled, the most senior justice can serve as acting chief justice.

“And under the circumstances, it won’t be vacant for long because the new administration would come into power after June 30 this year,” he said.

“And the new president would have ample time to appoint the new chief justice.”

Sandoval’s qualifications questioned

Chief Justice Puno questioned the qualifications of acting Sandiganbayan Presiding Justice Edilberto Sandoval during his public interview before the JBC yesterday.

Puno told Sandoval his 14 years of law practice were focused on criminal law.

A chief justice needs a well-rounded practice of law, he added.

However, Sandoval pushed his judicial improvement program like payment of judges’ benefits.

On the other hand, Justice De Castro told the JBC the Supreme Court “should decide cases with dispatch to stabilize the nation,” instead of creating chaos.

The SC must be a stabilizer for progress, she added.

The interview ended at around 7:30 p.m. with Justice Corona being swarmed with recurrent questions on several complaints of his judicial independence and judgment on cases he had handled.

The JBC took cognizance of the complaints against Justice Corona.

After the public interviews today, the JBC will submit a shortlist to Mrs. Arroyo on Tuesday. – With Artemio Dumlao, Marvin Sy, Christina Mendez, Delon Porcalla, Aurea Calica

Supreme Court temporarily stops NP-NPC merger

Supreme Court temporarily stops NP-NPC merger
By Edu Punay
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – The Supreme Court (SC) yesterday temporarily stopped the merger of the Nacionalista Party (NP) of presidential candidate Manuel Villar and the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) headed by businessman Eduardo Cojuangco.

The Court issued a status quo ante order stopping the Commission on Elections (Comelec) from implementing its earlier decision allowing the merger, according to Court administrator and SC spokesman Jose Midas Marquez following the full Court session of the magistrates in Baguio City.

The Court granted the relief sought in a petition filed by the Liberal Party (LP) led by presidential candidate Sen. Benigno Aquino III seeking to scrap the merger, which it branded as “bogus.”

Marquez said the Court at the same time directed the Comelec, the NP and NPC to comment on the petition filed by the LP, the oldest political party in the country.

In its petition for certiorari and prohibition with urgent application for temporary restraining order/status quo ante and/or writ of preliminary injunction, the LP stressed that the alliance was a “bogus coalition formed solely to rob from the Liberal Party the recognition as the dominant minority, which it held during the 2007 senatorial elections.”

The LP said the merger was a “sham, highly dubious and shameless.”

It noted that even NPC chairman Faustino Dy Jr., who signed the resolution for the NP-NPC alliance on behalf of the NPC, had admitted under oath before the Comelec that the merger was not approved by the NPC National Convention, which is a requirement under its constitution and bylaws.

The LP added that Dy acknowledged that there was no consultation made with the members of the NPC prior to its decision to merge with NP.

“The NP-NPC was never formally, and much less, genuinely organized by the NPC. It was but a mere piece of paper purposely designed to emasculate the chances of other registered political parties who rely on their own truthful qualifications in their application for the dominant minority party status,” it argued.

The LP, for its part, hailed the High Court’s decision saying that “ a coalition of political parties must not be just a piece of paper that can be registered whimsically, most especially when such purported coalition is not only dubious in its existence but is also severely tainted with bad faith and is intended to have undue advantage against those who are faithfully complying with the law.”

“We stand firm in our belief that this supposed coalition serves only the interests of those who wish to remain in power and preserve the rampant system of corruption in our country. The party remains vigilant in light of this decision, and is hopeful that the Supreme Court, in situations that might later arise, will continue to uphold the truth and deliver judgments that are fair, just, and have only the people’s interests at heart, as is its duty,” LP president Sen. Manuel Roxas II said. – Aurea Calica

Comelec: Poll results known in 3 days

Comelec: Poll results known in 3 days
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – The results of the country’s first automated general elections will be known within three days.

This was announced by Commission on Elections (Comelec) spokesman James Jimenez after business groups said they feared the new system would fail.

The Philippines has brought in the nationwide automated system to replace the laborious manual system that took weeks to tabulate results, but influential business groups have called for a manual count as a backup.

In a statement Wednesday, the Management Association of the Philippines urged the Comelec to adopt a parallel nationwide manual count for the president and vice president to “mitigate, if not eliminate, the skepticism of many about the credibility of the automated election system and the results that it will deliver.”

The Comelec is prepared to shift to a manual count if ballot-counting machines fail to function in up to 30 percent of more than 76,300 precincts nationwide during the May 10 polls, said Jimenez.

A failure to elect a successor to President Arroyo by the time she is supposed to step down on June 30 is “almost inconceivable,” he said.

“We are looking at two to three days for the release of the national data … but as far as the proclamation of president and vice president (is concerned), you have to wait for Congress,” Jimenez told a forum by the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines.

Under the Constitution, the Senate and the House of Representatives must convene not later than 30 days after the elections to officially count votes for the president and vice president and proclaim the winners.

Voters also will be electing senators, congressmen, provincial, city and municipal officials on May 10. These votes will also be counted using the automated system.

Random manual audit

Comelec Commissioner Rene Sarmiento said yesterday the random manual audit of ballots should be done after the proclamation of candidates so as not to delay the election process.

“It should be after. If you do it before proclamation, then objections, challenges can be raised. If it happens, the process and proclamation of candidates will be delayed. It might defeat the purpose of full automation. That’s the concern of the Comelec,” Sarmiento told reporters.

Sarmiento said they are set to promulgate their resolution soon after reducing the report of the technical working group.

Electoral reform groups have asked the Comelec to conduct a wider manual audit of ballots before the proclamation of election winners because a limited one would cast doubt on the results of the automated polls.

Poll watchdog groups have been pushing for the random manual audit before the proclamation, saying doing it after the proclamation would render it useless.

Comelec critics claimed that in the event that there is a discrepancy between the results of the automated and manual count, the rest of the ballot boxes should be opened and be counted manually so winners can be proclaimed.

Sarmiento said that they have already decided to increase the number of precincts to be subjected to random manual audit.

“Now we have increased the audit to five, so it’s a higher number and make the precincts to be audited more representative,” Sarmiento said.

The random manual audit will be conducted by the Board of Election Inspectors (BEI) not belonging to the selected precinct.

The Poll Automation Law stipulates the conduct of manual audit in a single precinct per legislative district, randomly selected by the Comelec.

A ballot box from the selected precinct will be audited to check if the ballots in it had been counted properly by the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machine.

JDV3 seeks parallel manual count

Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino (PMP) senatorial candidate Joey de Venecia III sought yesterday a parallel manual count in the May 10 elections to protect the people’s right to choose their leader.

De Venecia said the parallel manual count will guarantee the credibility of the results of the May 10 elections.

“The Commission on Elections is well advised to heed the snowballing call for the conduct of a manual count of the votes to be cast in the May 10 elections side-by-side with the automated tally of the ballots of 50 million registered voters,” De Venecia said.

However, De Venecia said the 30 percent contingency manual ballots of the Comelec are not enough.

De Venecia said the Comelec must print enough manual ballots for the entire number of voters to cover the looming probability of widespread failure of the PCOS machines and automated count ballots as foreshadowed by last weekend’s overseas automated voting in Hong Kong.

He said it was not enough that Comelec has claimed to have set aside enough manual tally ballots to cover 30 percent of the entire electorate in case of a failure in the automated voting system, since it has no way to determine where and when the PCOS machines would bog down on election day.

“About five thousand voting machines are kept in reserve. How do we know that these five thousand are kept in a safe place? More importantly, how does the Comelec hope to distribute these to the areas where they are needed on election day?” De Venecia said.

Comelec may review gun ban

The Comelec may revisit its policies on the total gun ban, following the recent attacks against judges, an official said yesterday.

According to Commissioner Sarmiento, the recent atrocities against judges and the appeal of the Supreme Court (SC) to exempt them from the gun ban might warrant a review of Comelec Resolution 8742 implementing a total gun ban.

“The Comelec will revisit the rules with these judges facing threats to their life, especially during this election period.  They are the ones who will try electoral protests,” he added.

SC spokesman Jose Midas Marquez has reiterated a request for the 2,000 judges nationwide to be exempted from the gun ban.

Under the resolution, only the members of the Philippine National Police, National Bureau of Investigation, Armed Forces of the Philippines and other law enforcement agencies are allowed to carry firearms provided that they are on duty and in uniform.

Other individuals can apply for security escorts with the Comelec if they feel there is a threat to their safety.

The Comelec is also now seriously considering holding early voting in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) despite the absence of an enabling law on this.

Sarmiento said the agency would hold next week a hearing on a pending petition to hold advance voting in ARMM. Political parties have been invited to the hearing.

He said aside from ARMM, other “traditionally hot spot areas” like Abra, Nueva Ecija and Masbate might be subjected to early voting if such is approved.

“We’ll do our best if it will help the election to make it credible, especially in these problematic areas,” he added.

Meanwhile, the Comelec has shelved the signing of a contract to supply some 228,000 padlocks to be used to secure ballot boxes.

Commissioner Armando Velasco said the suspension was made to review the petition of bidder Atlanta Industries Corp. which questioned the notice of award given to Neutron Construction and Marketing Corp. – AP, Helen Flores, Jose Rodel Clapano, Sheila Crisostomo

Carpio declines anew chief justice nomination

Carpio declines anew chief justice nomination
By Edu Punay
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – Supreme Court (SC) Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio reiterated to the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) yesterday that he does not want to be named chief justice by President Arroyo.

Replying to the JBC’s invitation for an interview, Carpio said the Constitution bans Mrs. Arroyo from naming the successor to Chief Justice Reynato Puno, who will retire on May 17.

“I wish to reiterate that I am not interested to be nominated to the said position at this time,” read the letter.

Earlier, the 60-year-old Carpio, the most senior SC justice, accepted his nomination for the post of chief justice on condition that he would be named by the next president.

Justice Secretary Alberto Agra, a JBC member, told reporters they would discuss whether Carpio would be included in the shortlist to be submitted to Mrs. Arroyo.

Members of the JBC are divided on the issue, he added.

Agra said some JBC members believe that those who have signified lack of interest in their nomination should not be included in the shortlist, even if they are qualified.

“Again, all the six nominees were invited for the interview,” he said.

“We are hoping that they will attend. If they don’t, then JBC should meet to discuss what is the implication of such an absence.

“Some of us may think this is a waiver and therefore an abandonment of one’s nomination and acceptance. Some of us may just say regardless of his or her absence, we will still submit the name.”

OSG: Judiciary appointments  are not midnight appointments

Appointments in the judiciary cannot be considered midnight appointments because they pass through the JBC, according to the Office of the Solicitor General.

Raising this argument, the OSG asked the SC yesterday to affirm its ruling last month allowing President Arroyo to appoint the next chief justice and extend the exemption to the constitutional ban on midnight appointments to the entire judiciary.

“There can be no midnight appointments when we speak of the judiciary because of the indispensable and deliberate participation of the JBC,” the OSG said.

“No midnight appointments in judiciary since JBC publishes list, accepts complaints, conducts interviews and submits shortlist to the President.”

The OSG also asked the SC to clarify whether Mrs. Arroyo can also appoint judges in trial courts and justices in appellate courts and reverse its 1998 decision on the appointments of Judges Mateo Valenzuela and Placido Vallarta.

“There is merit in the ruling of this Honorable Court that Valenzuela and Vallarta should be reversed,” the OSG said.

“The framers never intended to extend the prohibition contained in Section 15, Article VII to the appointments to the judiciary. Otherwise, they could have explicitly done so.”

Agra, concurrent solicitor general, said the SC could still declare the entire judiciary as exempted from the midnight appointments ban.

“Since the issue is now with the Supreme Court, we believe the Court has prerogative to rule on this,” he said.

The OSG said the JBC’s principal function is to recommend appointees to the judiciary and to prepare a list of nominees for every vacancy from which the President will choose his or her appointee.

“This duty is unqualified,” the OSG said.

“Consequently, it is a ministerial duty which respondent JBC is mandated to perform under the Constitution.

“To be sure, this ministerial duty to submit its list to the President is separate and distinct from its discretionary duty to determine who its nominees will be.

“As regards the latter, it can only be compelled to act, but not act one way or another.”

The OSG said contrary to the claims of critics, the SC did not infringe upon the independence of the JBC, a constitutional body, when it ruled on the petitions.

“The exercise of jurisdiction over these cases is not an infringement upon the independence but an affirmation of the supremacy of the rule of law,” he said.

“The Court was not exercising its power of supervision but its judicial power when it took cognizance of the cases and rendered the assailed decision.

“Such exercise of jurisdiction was proper and entirely within its constitutional duty to settle actual controversies with its exercise of judicial power.”

The case is included in the SC’s agenda for its session in Baguio City today, according to court administrator and SC spokesman Jose Midas Marquez.

'No new Sandiganbayan chief until after Supreme Court ruling'

‘No new Sandiganbayan chief until after Supreme Court ruling’
By Marvin Sy
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – Malacañang has given assurance that President Arroyo will not appoint a new Sandiganbayan presiding justice before the Supreme Court (SC) finally rules on the appointment of the successor of Chief Justice Reynato Puno.

Executive Secretary Leandro Mendoza said the President is well aware that the SC ruling allowing her to appoint the next chief justice is not yet final and that she always respects the law.

Mendoza explained that a motion for reconsideration had already been filed before the high court on its March 17 ruling and the President would wait for final resolution of the case.

Sandiganbayan presiding justice Norberto Geraldez died of pancreatic cancer last Sunday, barely a month after the President appointed him to the post.

Justice Edilberto Sandoval took over as acting presiding justice of the anti-graft court.

The Palace has taken a position on the appointment of the Sandiganbayan presiding justice similar to its stand on the case of the chief justice – that the President can make the appointment in spite of the 60-day election ban.

Justice Secretary and Solicitor General Alberto Agra said appointments to the judiciary are not covered by the ban and that the SC’s March 17 ruling affirmed this.

He said his office would submit comment on appeals of the SC ruling and include government’s position that the decision effectively exempts the entire judiciary from the ban.

Harsh criticisms

The intention of the President to appoint the next chief justice and the presiding justice of the Sandiganbayan has drawn harsh criticism from the political opposition.

The opposition claimed that Mrs. Arroyo would be violating the law by appointing the two justices during the 60-day ban on appointments during the elections.

They also claimed that the President intended to make the appointments to improve her chances of being saved from prosecution after she steps down from office on June 30.

Presidential spokesman Ricardo Saludo urged the opposition to wait for the final SC ruling before making statements on the issue.

However, Saludo pointed out that the President would be doing a disservice if she allows the post at the Sandiganbayan to remain vacant until the end of her term.

“We should also consider the principle that justice delayed is justice denied. Allowing a prompt appointment to the Sandiganbayan would expedite cases now pending before it,” he said.

Former President Joseph Estrada said Malacañang’s plan to appoint a new Sandiganbayan presiding justice indicates the Arroyo government’s obsession with power.

Speaking through his spokesperson Margaux Salcedo, Estrada said Arroyo would violate the ban on midnight appointments if she would appoint a new Sandiganbayan presiding justice.

“This appointment would be outside the Supreme Court ruling and clearly fall within the ban on midnight appointments,” Estrada said.

No rule yet

SC administrator and spokesman Midas Marquez said there is no rule laid down yet on whether Mrs. Arroyo can appoint another presiding justice of the anti-graft court within the ban period, which started last March 11 and lasts until the end of her term on June 30.

Marquez said the President can appoint another Sandiganbayan chief and this could be subject to review of the high court.

Earlier, Marquez explained that the SC ruling on the chief justice post could not be used by the Palace to justify recent movements in the executive office, including the appointment of 87-year-old taipan Alfonso Yuchengco in place of Philippine Ambassador to Germany Delia Domingo-Albert.

For the vacant Sandiganbayan post, the SC official said the issue has yet to reach the Court.

The Palace had reportedly said it could use the SC ruling in justifying appointments in other positions in the judiciary and that the high court only ruled with respect to the chief justice post.

“The Supreme Court decision is quite categorical. It reversed its ruling on the Vallarta-Valenzuela case,” Agra explained, referring to the 1998 ruling of the high court on the cases of Judges Mateo Valenzuela and Placido Vallarta, which declared that the appointments of judges in trial courts were covered by the ban on midnight appointments.

The SC had earlier clarified that its ruling on De Castro is “non-doctrinal” as far as the coverage of the ban on appointments in appellate and lower courts is concerned, since the nine justices in the majority vote were divided on whether the exemption covers just the SC or the entire judiciary.

Marquez stressed that while the SC failed to settle this issue, the main controversy in the consolidated petitions filed by the Philippine Constitution Association and lawyers Arturo de Castro and Estelito Mendoza – which the Court resolved – only involves the chief justice post.

But Agra said the position of five of the nine justices that the entire judiciary is exempted from the ban could be considered a “majority vote” already.

‘Spare next  presiding justice’

Former Sen. Ralph Recto appealed to the President to spare the next presiding justice of the Sandiganbayan from any permanent appointment, “as this midnight appointment might haunt the appointee for his entire judicial career.”

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. asked the SC to reverse its decision allowing the President to appoint a new chief justice.

In a motion for intervention, Pimentel said that the high court’s decision last March 17 “runs counter to the principle” that republican constitutions establish “limitations to the power of officials in whose hands government authority is lodged momentarily.”

Pimentel said the court should take a second look at the dissenting opinion of Justice Conchita Carpio-Morales, which “cogently dissected each argument postulated by the majority of the Court, shredded the basis of its individual premises and exposed the irrationality of its conclusions.”

Meanwhile, a group of lawyers asked the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) to proceed with its selection of the next chief justice and resolve related issues without representation from the Palace.

In a letter to Puno, also ex-officio chair of JBC, the Alternative Law Group (ALG) sought the inhibition or disqualification of Agra from deliberations of the collegial body in the nomination process for the chief justice post due to “conflict of interest.” – With Edu Punay, Christina Mendez, Delon Porcalla, Rodel Clapano

SC affirms with finality Mendoza as Bulacan governor

SC affirms with finality Mendoza as Bulacan governor
By Dateline Philippines

BAGUIO CITY, Philippines – The Supreme Court (SC) has affirmed with finality its ruling on the petition filed by Bulacan governor Joselito “Jon-jon” Mendoza that sought to prevent the Commission on Elections (Comelec) from ousting him from his post.

At a press briefing, Court Administrator and SC spokesman Jose Midas Marquez said Mendoza’s political rival and former Agrarian Reform secretary Roberto “Obet” Pagdangan failed to raise new issues that would warrant the reversal of its ruling issued last March 23.

“The motion for reconsideration has been denied with finality the basic issues has been passed upon and there being no substantial arguments presented in the MR,” Marquez said.

In its March 23 ruling, the Court nullified the resolutions issued by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) ordering Mendoza to vacate his post after declaring Pagdanganan as the duly-elected governor of the province.

The Court earlier held that the Comelec en banc committed grave abuse of discretion in ousting Mendoza from his post.

The Comelec en banc, voting 3-3-1, denied Mendoza’s motion for reconsideration last March 5 and granted Pagdanganan’s motion for immediate execution of the decision of the second division installing him as Bulacan’s governor.

Supreme Court okays new district for Dato

Supreme Court okays new district for Dato
By Edu Punay
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – Following its controversial decision giving President Arroyo the power to appoint the next chief justice, the Supreme Court (SC) has again rendered another ruling that is favorable to the Palace.

The SC junked yesterday a petition of Liberal Party (LP) standard-bearer Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III questioning the law signed by the President creating a new congressional district in Camarines Sur that will benefit her son, Rep. Diosdado Ignacio “Dato” Arroyo, and her ally former budget secretary Rolando Andaya.

Voting 9-5 during a summer session in Baguio City, the High Court ruled that RA 9716, which created another district in the province after reapportionment of cities and municipalities, is constitutional, according to SC spokesman Midas Marquez.

The SC dismissed Aquino’s argument in his petition filed in October last year that RA 9716 “constitutes grave abuse of discretion” and “violates the principle of proportional representation.”

In the decision penned by Associate Justice Jose Perez, the Court said that the required population of 250,000 for creation of a district only applies to cities.

“The Court said that this requirement under Article VI, Section 5, Paragraph 3 of the Constitution does not apply to provinces but only to cities. In this case, there is nothing wrong in the reapportionment of Camarines Sur, a province, that left the first district with only 178,000 residents,” Marquez explained in a teleconference.

Eight other justices concurred in the ruling – Senior Justice Renato Corona and Associate Justices Presbitero Velasco Jr., Antonio Eduardo Nachura, Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Mariano del Castillo and Jose Mendoza.

Chief Justice Reynato Puno, Senior Justice Antonio Carpio, Associate Justices Conchita Carpio-Morales, Arturo Brion and Martin Villarama dissented.

In his dissenting opinion, Carpio said that the 250,000 population is a default requirement in the creation of a district. The other four agreed with him.

Associate Justice Roberto Abad is on official leave.

Carpio argued that the new law signed by the President on Oct. 12 last year had violated the requirement on population for creation of a legislative district as specified in Article VI Section 5 of the Constitution.

He said that after the reapportionment of the province for the creation of the third district, “the first district will have a population of 176,383, way below the population requirement under the Constitution.”

Senator Aquino, in his petition, stressed that the creation of a new district should not be merely based on the benefits it would give to lawmakers.

“It is not a question of whether or not the congressman would agree to the creation of a new legislative district. It is a question of whether or not it would translate to better representation for the people living in the said locality, given that the population of a particular locality has grown so much as to entitle it a new legislative district,” he argued.

“Congressional reapportionment is an issue of the people represented, not the representative,” Aquino stressed.

The LP standard-bearer believes that the new law “would favor them (Rep. Arroyo and former Rep. Andaya)” as the extra congressional district would mean the two would no longer need to run against each other in the May congressional polls.

He was joined by Naga City Mayor Jesse Robredo in filing the petition.

No constitutional requirement

RA 9716 originated from House Bill 4264 filed by 2nd District Rep. Luis Villafuerte and was approved by the House of Representatives on June 11, 2008. It was submitted to the Senate six days after.

During public hearings, Sen. Joker Arroyo and Rep. Villafuerte argued that the Constitution did not provide any minimum population requirement for the creation of congressional districts within a province.

They added that while the Constitution requires that cities must have at least 250,000 inhabitants to be entitled to a legislative district, there is no such requirement for provinces.

The provinces of Batanes, Camiguiin, Siquijor, among others, have less than 250,000 inhabitants and yet have their own legislative districts, they explained.

Before the new law was passed, the first district of Camarines Sur was composed of the towns of Del Gallego, Ragay, Lupi, Sipocot, Cabusao, Libmanan, Minabalac, Pamplona, Pasacao and San Fernando with a population of 417,300 two years ago.

The second district, on the other hand, was composed of the towns of Gainza, Milaor, Pili, Ocampo, Camaligan, Canaman, Magarao, Bombon, Calabanga and Naga with a combined population of 474,899 in 2007.

Under R.A. 9716, the municipalities of Libmanan, Minabalac, Pamplona, Pasacao and San Fernando in the first district were consolidated with the municipalities of Gainza and Milaor in the second district to comprise a new district.

The municipalities of Del Gallego, Ragay, Lupi, Sipocot and Cabusao shall continue to be designated as the first legislative district.

The second district shall become the third district composed of Naga City and the municipalities of Pili, Ocampo, Camaigan, Magarao, Bombon and Calatianga.

The new fourth district shall comprise the towns of Caramoan, Garchitorena, Goa, Lagonoy, Presentacion, Sangay, San Jose, Tigaon, Tinambac, and Siruma.

The fifth district shall be composed of Iriga City, Baao, Balatan, Bato, Buhi, Bula and Nabua.

The creation of an additional district prevented a face-off between Andaya and Rep. Arroyo.

Andaya, who served as the representative of the old 1st district from 1998-2007, is now making a comeback in his district and is facing Nacionalista Party’s (NP) Nestor delos Reyes.

The younger Arroyo, meanwhile, is running in the new 2nd district and is facing NP bet and San Fernando Mayor Fermin Mabulo.

NP bet Sen. Manuel Villar Jr. welcomed the SC’s decision and wasted no time in hitting Aquino.

“I think that’s the only battle Noynoy waged, and it was even slammed,” said Villar.

“It is irrelevant who will run and benefit from it. What we follow is the law. This went through the processes of the House of Representatives and the Senate, so we know this is legal,” he added.

Double whammy

One of the senators who debated with Aquino over the issue called the SC decision a double whammy.

Earlier, the SC ruled as unconstitutional RA 8754, which created a legislative district within the city of Malolos.

Aquino supported and shepherded the Malolos bill through the Senate as chairman of the Committee on Local Government.

Malolos residents questioned the bill before the Supreme Court and won.

The source, who debated against Aquino on the issue, noted the irony of the two measures where the senator supported the bill although the last census showed that Malolos had a population of only 227,000, short of the 250,000 constitutional requirement.

At that time, Aquino claimed that Malolos had a potential 250,000 population according to other government agencies, but the SC was not convinced.

In the Camarines Sur bill, Aquino refused to sponsor the House Bill of Rep. Villafuerte because according to him the new district has only 176,383 inhabitants and therefore short of the 250,000 requirement.

“As it turned out, the Supreme Court turned Noynoy down in both cases,” the source said.

“The poignancy of the Camarines Sur bill is that when it was voted upon by the Senate on third and final reading, Noynoy got the support of only one senator, fellow Liberal Kiko Pangilinan while the rest of the Senate went against him,” the same source added. – Artemio Dumlao, Christina Mendez

I'm no 'midnight appointee' – justice

I’m no ‘midnight appointee’ – justice
By Delon Porcalla
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – A newly appointed justice of the Court of Appeals (CA) defended his appointment by President Arroyo, saying there was nothing irregular in his designation, as well as those of other magistrates in the appellate court.

Justice Ramon Paul Hernando stressed there was nothing sinister in the appointments that have been described as “midnight appointments.”

“It’s unfair insofar as our appointments to the CA is concerned,” said Hernando, who was named to the CA along with fellow magistrates Eduardo Peralta Jr. and Myra Fernandez.

He said their appointment to the CA could not be classified as midnight appointments since their papers were signed as early as Feb. 16.

Hernando served as judge of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court while Peralta and Fernandez came from the Manila Regional Trial Court.

The three new CA justices took their oath of office on March 10, a day before the election appointment ban.

SC spokesman Midas Marquez, who also serves as court administrator in a concurrent capacity, has vouched for the validity of the appointments of the three CA justices, saying these were not covered by the ban on midnight appointments.

Hernandez, 43, is the youngest among the CA justices and is the third youngest jurist to be appointed in the appellate court’s history – after Chief Justice Reynato Puno and Justice Japar Dimaampao who were both appointed CA justices at age 40.

Critics have slammed Mrs. Arroyo for making a slew of appointments to the judiciary and other government agencies.