MANILA, Philippines - If he had his way, winning presidential candidate Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III would rather take his oath of office as President of the Republic of the Philippines before a lowly barangay tanod instead of the chief of the highest court of the land.
Speaking before reporters at a wake in Tarlac City, Aquino continued a seething word war with the incumbent administration after stating that he would not recognize the appointment of Chief Justice Renato Corona.
"It is in tradition but it is not required by the Constitution as to who [will administer the oath]. Sa barangay tanod na lang ako dito sa Tarlac (I'll just take it before a village watchman here in Tarlac)," he said in an interview.
Aquino has criticized President Arroyo for appointing Corona -- her former presidential legal counsel, spokesman, chief of staff, and acting executive secretary --as Chief Justice.
The issue of the "midnight appointment" of the new Chief Justice has sparked protests among Arroyo's critics who labeled the move as a last ditch effort to save herself from a future investigation.
The Supreme Court, whose 14 (out of 15) sitting justices are Arroyo appointees, previously ruled that a 90-day midnight-appointment ban does not apply to the high tribunal.
Last Wednesday, Aquino urged Mrs. Arroyo to reconsider her decision and allow the next president to appoint the next Chief Justice.
On Friday, the opposition senator and possible president-elect said the issue of Corona's appointment will be investigated under his administration. "It is still violating the Constitution, this midnight appointment. This will be discussed I'm sure," he said.
Meanwhile, several quarters agreed that Aquino will not violate any law if he does not take his oath before the Supreme Court Chief Justice.
Sen. Francis Escudero, who endorsed Aquino's candidacy, said the practice of a Chief Justice administering the oath to an incoming President is tradition but there's no constitutional provision that requires it.
"By tradition, all previous presidents took their oaths before the chief justice but I am not aware of any law that he should. In fact, a statement can be made by taking his oath before any officer authorized to administer oaths including a barangay captain...In my 3 terms as a congressman I always took my oath before a barangay captain," he told ANC's Headstart.
Supreme Court spokesman Jose Midas Marquez and deputy Presidential spokesman Charito Planas also agreed that no law requires the president-elect to take his oath before the Chief Justice.
Planas noted that all presidents of the Philippines, except for presidents Manuel Quezon and Sergio Osmeña, took their oaths before a Supreme Court Chief Justice.
She warned Aquino that he may spark a constitutional crisis if he refuses to recognize Corona's appointment.
"The fact that you don't recognize the head of the judicial department, and the Constitution is the one that provides that the judicial department is led by the Chief Justice. His appointment is legal and members of SC already welcome him and accept him," she said.
She said that instead of complaining about Corona's appointment, Aquino should "move on and focus on how he can effectively lead the country."
SC independence a bigger issue
For his part, Escudero said the bigger issue confronting the Supreme Court is its perceived bias for President Arroyo especially since most of them were appointed by the outgoing president.
"I am hopeful that the judiciary would be independent-minded. I hope that whatever people say about the justices of the Supreme Court, that they will have a sense of history and would abide by what the law states insofar as any case is brought before their court against GMA," he said.
Escudero reiterated that he is against the decision of the Supreme Court allowing the appointment of a new Chief Justice despite a 90-day midnight appointments ban. He added, however, that as a member of the Judicial Bar and Council, he is required to follow the decision of the court once it has become final and executory.
He also said the underlying tension between the judiciary and the new president could augur well for democracy.
"Indepndent naman ang judiciary from the executive and from the legislative. Mas maganda nga siguro kaysa chummy sa judiciary na susundin ng judiciary lahat ng sasabihin ng executive, like under GMA," the senator said. With a report from Gretchen Malalad, ABS-CBN News