MANILA, Philippines - Justice Conchita Carpio-Morales should inhibit from any legal case arising out of President Arroyo’s possible selection of the next chief justice, according to Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago
Santiago said Carpio-Morales has, in effect, already prejudged the case when the latter said that she would only consider a nomination for chief justice if the appointment will come from the next duly-elected president.
“It is an extremely impulsive and ill-advised statement because she already shows that she has prejudged the issue…In that case, when the issue rises in the Supreme Court in the proper way, she will, of course, inhibit herself,” Santiago said.
Carpio-Morales, the third most senior justice in the Supreme Court after Justices Antonio Carpio and Renato Corona, is automatically considered a nominee for the replacement of Chief Justice Reynato Puno, who is due to retire on May 17.
But in a letter to the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC), the body which vets nominees for the judiciary to the president, Carpio-Morales expressed interest in the position "upon the understanding" that the nomination is to be submitted to the next President in light of the election period appointment ban.
The 1987 Constitution bars the incumbent president from making appointments 2 months before an election and until his or her term ends on June 30.
JBC member and Arroyo ally Rep. Matias Defensor proposed an early nomination of Puno’s replacement, saying the post cannot be left vacant, especially during the election period when the SC may be swamped with electoral protests.
However, Defensor’s argument has been assailed by legal experts.
Constitutionalist Fr. Joaquin Bernas said an acting chief justice, the most senior among the justices, can preside over the Presidential Electoral Tribunal, the body which handles election-related cases involving the presidential race.
The SC once put its foot down on the issue when it barred then President Fidel Ramos from appointing Judges Mateo Valenzuela, Placido Vallarta and the replacement of SC Justice Ricardo Francisco in May 1998 because their appointments were covered by the ban.
The High Court would have a chance to settle a similar problem if Arroyo picks a chief justice before she steps down.
Not Arroyo’s favorite
Meanwhile, Santiago said there was no significance in Carpio-Morales' statement that next chief justice should be appointed by the new president since she does not think Arroyo would consider Carpio-Morales for the post in the first place.
Santiago said Carpio-Morales and her cousin, Justice Antonio Carpio, have often voted against Malacañang in crucial cases. Thus, it is expected that they are not in the president’s good graces.
The two justices have voted against the Arroyo administration in the following controversial cases:
- Constitutionality of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) for the Bangsa Moro people of Mindanao;
- Carpio-Morales wrote the decision which declared the MOA-AD unconstitutional. The SC voted 8-7, with Carpio joining the majority.
- People’s initiative case, which was struck down by the Court because it sought to revise the Constitution and change the current presidential form of government from presidential to parliamentary.
According to Section 2, Article 12 of the Constitution, people’s initiative is limited to amending the Charter. Carpio wrote the ponencia; Carpio-Morales concurred with the decision.
- Executive privilege, which then Socio-economic Planning Secretary Romulo Neri invoked when asked in a Senate inquiry what Arroyo's instructions were to him on the now aborted $329-million NBN-ZTE telecommunications deal.
The SC voted 9-6 to uphold the executive privilege; Carpio and Carpio-Morales both dissented.
“In practical terms, because she and Justice Antonio Carpio are first cousins and they always vote in a certain way, there is no hope that President Arroyo will ever appoint them either. So it is no great sacrifice for her,” Santiago said.