President Benigno Aquino III on Friday disputed reports that branded his naming of 61 judges last week as “midnight appointments” similar to that of impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona’s by then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, saying conditions surrounding the two moves were different.
First, Mr. Aquino said, Corona’s appointment violated the Constitution since he was appointed by Arroyo during the election period in 2010.
Secondly, he said, he signed the judges’ appointments on March 26, three days ahead of the start of the ban on presidential appointments stretching from March 29 to May 13.
“Now, on top of that, there is a letter from the chair of the Comelec (Commission on Elections), and it embodies Comelec Resolution No. 13-0331 dated March 5, 2013,” the President said.
He added, “It states, basically, that appointments to the judiciary as provided by Article 8, Section 4, Subsections 1 and 9, which is the judiciary portion of the Constitution, are not covered by the election ban in Section 261, subsection G of the Omnibus Election Code.”
He made this clarification in an interview in Sta. Cruz, Laguna, where he campaigned for local candidates of the ruling party and those in its senatorial slate.
“There is a huge difference [between the judges’ appointment] and the appointment of Corona,” the President said.
He called attention to Article 7, Section 15, of the Constitution, which stated: “Two months immediately before the next presidential elections and up to the end of his term, a President or acting President shall not make appointments, except temporary appointments to the executive positions when continued vacancies therein will prejudice public service or endanger public safety.”
Mr. Aquino said the controlling rule was, “two months before and up to the end of the term” wherein a sitting President could no longer fill vacancies in the government.
“Corona was appointed one week after elections. My [appointments] happened when an election has yet to take place,” he said.
He also disclosed that he signed the appointments of the 61 judges on Tuesday, March 26.
The judges have been assigned to municipal and regional trial courts in the provinces of Camarines Sur, Camarines Norte, Sorsogon, Pampanga, Bataan, Bulacan, Nueva Ecija, Zambales, Vigan, Quirino, Aurora, Leyte, Zamboanga del Norte, Aklan, Antique, Capiz, Iloilo and Negros Occidental.
He also appointed judges to preside over courts in the National Capital Region, in the cities of Caloocan, Makati, Mandaluyong, Manila, Pasay, Quezon and Pasig.
Mr. Aquino added: “I am not a minister. I have a search committee that acts on the recommendations of the judiciary search [committee]. Well, the JBC (Judicial and Bar Council) sends a list.
“I am given a choice [to pick from] three [nominees] per court.”
Saying that the nominees were not the result of “hocus pocus,” he added, “Of course, we thoroughly study [the list] as much as possible.”
He enumerated some of the factors considered in judicial appointments: Grade in the bar examinations, output in terms of decisions as judge and the “crises he/she handled as a lawyer.”