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President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has named Associate Justice Renato Corona to succeed Chief Justice Reynato Puno. She chatted with Corona during the opening of the Philippine Judicial Academy training center in Tagaytay City on May 7. EDWIN BACASMAS


Arroyo: Corona is next Chief Justice

His credentials OK but Presidents act scored

By TJ Burgonio
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:09:00 05/13/2010

Filed Under: Judiciary (system of justice), SC appointments, Retirement

MANILA, Philippines ? Carefully choosing its words, Malacaang announced early Wednesday that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo ?has chosen? Associate Justice Renato Corona to succeed Chief Justice Reynato Puno when the latter retires on May 17.

The Palace stressed that Corona?s appointment would take effect on that day, as though mindful of Supreme Court spokesperson Midas Marquez?s earlier statement that Ms Arroyo could not appoint the next Chief Justice unless a vacancy occurs.

Raul Victorino, Ms Arroyo?s chief legal counsel, said at a briefing that Corona had been nominated by the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) and ?happens to be the most senior? among the nominees.

?And nobody, I think, can question this announcement and his eventual appointment,? Victorino said of a subject that had earlier triggered furious debates and street protests.

At a press conference later Wednesday, Marquez said Puno, Corona and the other justices of the high court had learned of Corona?s appointment from news reports.

?There are no appointment papers yet from Malacaang,? Marquez said. ?We only heard of it on radio and television. Maybe it was an announcement of an appointment to be made on Monday.?

Asked if Corona?s appointment was premature because it created a scenario of ?a Chief Justice in waiting,? Marquez said: ?Announcing the appointment is the prerogative of the Palace.?

At the Palace briefing, the President?s men vouched for Corona?s integrity and competence to lead the high court, and scoffed at claims that he was beholden to Ms Arroyo.

?There were many considerations. He?s the most senior among the recommendees. He worked under many administrations, but he has been at the Supreme Court for quite some time. He has all the qualifications,? said Executive Secretary Leandro Mendoza.

Mendoza also said that contrary to perception, Ms Arroyo?s appointees to the high court had even disagreed with the positions taken by the Solicitor General on landmark cases.

Victorino agreed, saying: ?If we say he?s beholden to the sitting President, my question is: How can he be beholden when [Ms Arroyo] is no longer the President on June 30??

Those who question Corona?s appointment as Chief Justice should take their case to the courts, Victorino said, adding:

?A rejection of his appointment is a rejection of the Supreme Court.?

Marquez said Puno had not commented on the matter although the latter had been waiting for such an announcement from the Palace.

Corona was not in his office Wednesday, Marquez said.

Retirement rites on Friday

Marquez, who is also the high court?s administrator, said the retirement ceremony for Puno was scheduled at 3:30 p.m. on Friday.

By law, Corona is to take over as Chief Justice immediately after midnight of Sunday, when Puno reaches the mandatory retirement age of 70.

Marquez said Puno would probably make a statement on Corona?s appointment when he delivers his valedictory address on Friday.

The JBC submitted a short list of four nominees, including Corona, on May 5, after the high court ruled that Ms Arroyo could appoint Puno?s successor during an election period.

The other nominees were Supreme Court Associate Justices Teresita Leonardo de Castro and Arturo Brion, and acting Sandiganbayan Presiding Justice Edilberto Sandoval.

Excluded from nomination

The JBC excluded two earlier nominees?Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and Associate Justice Conchita Carpio-Morales, who had maintained that Ms Arroyo was barred by the Constitution from naming Puno?s successor, and that they would not accept such an appointment from her.

According to Marquez, Corona will serve as Chief Justice despite the fact that another justice is more senior, or appointed to the high court earlier, than he.

Carpio was appointed to the tribunal in October 2001, and Corona, in April 2002.

Marquez said the last time such a situation occurred was in December 2005, with the appointment of Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban, who was first named to the high court in October 1995.

Then Associate Justice Puno was more senior than Panganiban, having been appointed to the tribunal in June 1993.

Controversial ruling

In a controversial ruling, the Supreme Court voted on March 17 to authorize Ms Arroyo to appoint Puno?s successor.

Nine of the 15 justices said Article VII, Section 15 of the 1987 Constitution did not apply to the Supreme Court.

That provision states: ?Two months immediately before the next presidential election and up to the end of his term, a President or acting President shall not make appointments, except temporary appointments to executive positions when continued vacancies therein will prejudice public service or endanger public safety.?

Morales was the lone dissenter. Carpio and Corona, along with Puno, abstained, from voting.

The ruling was immediately met with protests.

On April 20, the high court ruled with finality, reiterating its March 17 decision.

CJ for 8 years

Corona turns 62 on Oct. 15. He will head the high court for eight years, or until 2018, when he turns 70.

A former law professor and private law practitioner, he was a Cabinet member in the Ramos and Arroyo administrations.

While attending night classes at Ateneo de Manila University law school, he worked full-time at the Office of the Executive Secretary in Malacaang. He graduated No. 5 in his class in 1974.

He took up a master of laws program at Harvard Law School in the early 1980s. He joined the Ramos administration in 1992 as assistant executive secretary for legal affairs and head of the legal office and held other jobs, rising through the years to become a Cabinet member.

Then Vice President Arroyo tapped Corona to become her chief of staff and spokesperson. When she took over the presidency in 2001, she appointed him as her chief of staff; he subsequently served as her spokesperson and, later, acting executive secretary. With reports from Jerome Aning and Angelo Cabrera; and Eliza Victoria, Inquirer Research

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