Can Noynoy void Corona's appointment as chief justice?

By Purple S. Romero,

Posted at May 13 2010 12:08 AM | Updated as of May 13 2010 08:08 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Liberal Party's Benigno Aquino III, whom partial and unofficial counts show will likely be the next president, has said that he wouldn't recognize the chief justice that President Arroyo would appoint before her term ends.

Now that Mrs. Arroyo actually named a new chief justice--denying her successor the privilege of doing so--can Aquino still void the appointment of Chief Justice Renato Corona?

Aquino has maintained that Arroyo's appointment of a chief justice within the election period is a violation of the Constitution. Article VII, Section 15 of the charter bars the president from making any appointments except to temporary posts in the executive department 2 months before the elections and until her term ends on June 30.

However, the Supreme Court ruled with finality in March that the judiciary is exempt from the said ban. Former Ombudsman Simeon Marcelo has filed a second motion for reconsideration.

“We will resolve the problem of the appointment of the Chief Justice with the utmost consideration for the provisions of the Constitution and the interest of the Filipino people,” Aquino said in a statement released following Corona’s selection Wednesday as chief justice.

Aquino only has a few options to do void Corona's appointment. Constitutionalist Joaquin Bernas earlier said that the next president can either file a case against the new chief justice in the very court that he is supposed to head, or the president will have to rally enough support from Congress to have the chief magistrate impeached.

Aquino's allies have actually threatened to impeach the next chief justice if appointed by Arroyo.

Not official yet
If he takes the first route, Aquino can question Corona’s “appointment” as chief justice, one that was made at a time when there is no vacancy yet. Chief Justice Reynato Puno will retire on May 17 yet.

Lawyer Marlon Manuel of the group Supreme Court Appointments Watch said that “it is highly unusual” that an appointment will be made when there’s no vacancy in the Court. “Maybe that’s why they said the appointment will take effect only on May 17.”

Malacañang has yet to issue Corona’s appointment papers, however. checked with the Supreme Court and found that no appointment papers have been transmitted yet.

The appointment of the members of the judiciary consists of 3 steps: the Judicial and Bar Council screens the applicants; the council submits to the President of a short list of nominees; the President picks a name from the list and transmits the appointment papers to the office of the chief justice.

Once the office of the chief justice receives the appointment papers, the new chief justice will be sworn in.

First test
On the other hand, University of the Philippines law professor Theodore Te said that jurisprudence requires that a vacancy exist first before an appointment is made.

In Costin vs Quimbo, the court ruled: “It is elementary in the law of public officers that no person, no matter how qualified and eligible he is for a certain position, may be appointed to an office which is not vacant. There can be no appointment to a non-vacant position. The incumbent must first be legally removed or his appointment validly terminated.”

The said case involved 2 police officials who were seeking reinstatement for the same post.

Te admitted, however, that this will be the first time that such principle will be tested in the position of chief justice.

Aquino’s chief justice
Critics say that Aquino has other interests in naming his own chief justice. The Supreme Court is set to decide if it will lift the temporary restraining order on the distribution of 4,200 hectares of Hacienda Luisita to farmer-beneficiaries under the government's agrarian reform program.

Aquino and his maternal relatives own 67% of the shares in Hacienda Luisita; the rest belong to the farmers. Labor disputes in the hacienda led to the killing of 12 farmers in 2004 and other labor leaders and farmers' supporters after that. (Read: Family’s wealth depends on Noynoy presidency)

Corona’s appointment came at a time when trust in the institution is at its lowest. The last time the court's trust rating fell that low was when it was perceived to be kowtowing to the whims of dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

If you ask him, however, Corona will not agree that the public is questioning the court’s independence.

When protests were held over the court’s decision allowing midnight appointments to the judiciary, Corona dismissed them as orchestrated only by one group, which he said is headed by Marcelo. Marcelo is a partner in the Villaraza Cruz Marcelo & Angcangco law firm, which was co-founded by Corona’s biggest rival for the chief justice post, Justice Antonio Carpio.

He referred to the protests as “ruckus coming from one noisy group, which also puts stickers of bastard chief justice” near the SC building in Padre Faura, Manila.

Corona is also unapologetic over having voted most of the time in favor of President Arroyo, his former boss. Corona was Arroyo’s chief of staff when the latter was still vice president. (Read: Justice Corona's voting record favors Arroyo)

He said that he will vote for the government “100 percent if it is correct,” and “also 100 percent against it, if it is wrong.”

Under Corona, the SC will be resolving these other significant cases: the constitutionality of Arroyo’s declaration of martial law in Maguindanao, the legality of former president Joseph Estrada’s second bid for the presidency, and the abolition of the presidential electoral tribunal, which resolves legal disputes involving the presidential race. (

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