MANILA, Philippines?Incoming Chief Justice Renato Corona puts not only the legitimacy of his position but the integrity of the Supreme Court on the line by accepting an appointment from President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, a legal watchdog group said.
The Supreme Courts Appointments Watch (SCAW), a loose coalition among legal and civil society groups formed a few years back to monitor Arroyo's appointees to the high court, added to the last-ditch appeals on Corona not to accept an appointment from Arroyo as the new chief justice.
In an open letter Friday, the group appealed to Corona's ?reason and statesmanship? to let the next president who will assume office on June 30 to do the appointment out of respect to the midnight appointments ban under the 1987 Constitution.
Accepting an appointment from the outgoing Arroyo ?will only serve to cast doubt on the legitimacy of your appointment,? it warned.
In announcing Corona's appointment ahead of the actual vacancy on May 17, Arroyo provoked an early clash with apparent successor Benigno ?Noynoy? Aquino III, who said he will not recognize her midnight appointments.
To underscore his position, Aquino said he might break tradition and take his oath before a barangay (village) chairman instead of Arroyo's appointed chief Justice.
SCAW said the Supreme Court's March 17 decision (which it affirmed on April 17) allowing Arroyo to appoint the next chief justice ?did not end the dispute? over the constitutional ban against midnight appointments.
The Supreme Court voted 9-1 (the other five justices either inhibited or found the case premature) to declare that Article VII Section 15 which prohibits an outgoing president from appointing two months before the elections until the end of her term does not extend to the high court.
Legal stalwarts including Constitutional Commission members former chief justice Hilario Davide, Fr. Joaquin Bernas, and Christian Monsod said the Supreme Court wrongly interpreted the constitutional provision that was meant to prevent an outgoing president from indirectly extending her rule through last-minute appointees in key offices.
?Doubtless this controversy has contributed to weakening public opinion of both the Supreme Court and the Judicial and Bar Council,? SCAW convenor Vincent Lazatin, who is also executive director of the Transparency and Accountability Network, wrote Corona.
Corona however is expected to take his oath before Arroyo on Monday, May 17, which is when Chief Justice Reynato Puno retires upon reaching 70.
A court spokesman said there was no reason for Corona, who served as Arroyo's chief of staff, not to accept the appointment since ?the Supreme Court has spoken.?
Corona, Puno, and Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio did not participate in the court's decision.
Carpio, Arroyo's former chief legal counsel whose former law office fell out of the First Couple's graces a few years back, withdrew as a candidate as he insisted that Arroyo can no longer appoint starting March 10.
Puno, an acknowledged constitutional expert, inhibited from the case saying he was the ex-officio chairman of the Judicial and Bar Council which is tasked by the Constitution to nominate appointees to the judiciary.
He was however a member of the Narvasa Court that unanimously ruled in 1998 that the president is neither required nor allowed to make appointments to the courts two months before the next presidential elections and up to the end of his term.
SCAW said Corona can sidestep the doubts about his appointment ?by respecting the appointments ban and allowing the president-elect to make the appointment.?
?As the head of the third branch of government, the chief justice has an obligation to ensure the integrity of the judiciary. That integrity starts with an appointment that is not only legitimate, but morally and ethically acceptable. A chief justice whose own appointment is embroiled in doubts and suspicion will not be an effective leader,? it said.
The SCAW was launched by the Alternative Law Groups, Integrated Bar of the Philippines, Philippine Association of Law Schools, Association of Law Students in the Philippines, Lawyers' League for Liberty, and Transparency and Accountability Network in light of Davide's retirement.
Its goal was to include civil society participation in the selection process for the next chief justice and other associate justices of the Supreme Court.