MANILA, Philippines?Sen. Benigno ?Noynoy? Aquino III called on President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to reconsider her appointment of Associate Justice Renato Corona and just focus on a smooth transition of power.
He said he would make it his priority in his first few days in Malacañang to clarify the constitutionality of Ms Arroyo?s move.
?There is still time for Mrs. Arroyo to reconsider her decision. We hope she will choose not to add another burden on top of everything else she will be leaving behind. She should instead concentrate on ensuring a smooth transition,? the Liberal Party standard-bearer said in a statement.
He said Ms Arroyo should ?recognize the new government?s right to appoint the next Chief Justice,? and described her appointment of ?a Chief Justice in waiting? as ?inappropriate at the very least.?
By choosing the new Chief Justice, President Arroyo has given her likely successor, a reason for declaring war.
?She is providing a casus belli for Aquino,? Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. Wednesday said in a phone interview, issuing the reminder that the front-runner in the presidential race had earlier declared that he would not honor ?midnight appointments? by Ms Arroyo.
By announcing her choice of Corona to succeed Chief Justice Reynato Puno, Ms Arroyo is ?in effect daring Aquino to do what he said he would do,? Pimentel said.
Pimentel joined Sen. Francis Pangilinan and former Senate President Franklin Drilon, who is seeking reelection under the Liberal Party, in saying that Ms Arroyo should have left the appointment to the next President.
Drilon and Pangilinan said she should have shown delicadeza (propriety) and respect to her successor.
Pimentel said Ms Arroyo?s move was adding ?confusion and anxiety? to the general situation, which, he added, was something ?we don?t need now, especially after the generally peaceful and orderly automated elections.?
He and Drilon made it clear that their objection was not directed at Corona?s qualifications for the post but at Ms Arroyo?s move.
?The most ideal [move] would be to allow Senator Noynoy to appoint the Chief Justice,? Drilon said by phone.
Pangilinan said Ms Arroyo should not have made the appointment considering that she had only six weeks left in her term.
?Ms Arroyo should have, out of delicadeza, allowed the next President to make the appointment. Sadly, it appears there is no such thing as a sense of propriety when it comes to her political survival,? Pangilinan said in a text message.
Just say no
Corona should refuse the appointment, former Ombudsman and Philippine Bar Association (PBA) president Simeon Marcelo said.
He observed that Corona?s appointment would complete the cast of Arroyo appointees in the tribunal.
?Corona should reject the appointment?and he himself earlier said he doesn?t need the position of Chief Justice?so he can save the Supreme Court from any attacks on its credibility,? Marcelo said by phone.
Besides, with Corona?s purported pattern of voting in favor of the administration in a number of cases, ?I don?t think he will be a neutral Chief Justice,? Marcelo said, adding that Ms Arroyo should have deferred to her likely successor to make the appointment ?as a matter of courtesy.?
Marcelo also said Ms Arroyo should not have made the appointment because the PBA had appealed the high court?s March 17 ruling on presidential appointments.
?There?s still a pending motion. The justices can still change their mind,? he said.
The high court affirmed its ruling in an April 20 resolution, and junked motions for reconsideration.
But Marcelo said: ?Our second motion for reconsideration is still pending at the Supreme Court. They should have waited for the final ruling. The appointment was made in haste. The next President has 44 days to make the appointment.?
In a phone patch interview with reporters, Marcelo said there was a ?great doubt? on Corona?s independence. He said he thought Corona was ?out to protect? the President from suits.
Respect the process
Marcelo said he would back any move for Corona?s impeachment. ?There?s a culpable violation of the Constitution in accepting the appointment because the Supreme Court ruling is not yet final. I will consult with the PBA board on this issue, but personally, I think an impeachment case should be filed.?
Roan Libarios, a member of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines board of governors, said he and a majority of his colleagues respected Ms Arroyo?s choice of Corona as the next Chief Justice.
?As lawyers, we can only respect the process. And since Justice Corona is part of the Supreme Court, the No. 2 in terms of seniority and endorsed by the Judicial and Bar Council ... we respect his nomination,? Libarios said.
Pacifico Agabin, a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Law, said it would be unfair to Corona to speculate adversely on his independence.
?He is qualified. He has been with the court for so long. He has done his duties,? Agabin said on the phone, adding:
?We should not prejudge the fellow just because he was appointed by [Ms Arroyo].?
But leading vice presidential candidate Jejomar Binay said the issue was not Corona?s qualifications but Ms Arroyo?s action.
?[This] is not about Justice Corona; this is about Ms Arroyo. Even if for delicadeza, just so the next President would have a say in the matter, it would have been best if she no longer meddled in the appointment,? Binay, the running mate of ousted President Joseph Estrada, said in a news conference.
?With only a few days left in her term, she could have just let the incoming President make the appointment whether for legal reasons or even if only for propriety,? he said.
Estrada?s spokesperson Margaux Salcedo said it would be a challenge for Corona to maintain independence.
?How ingenious of President Arroyo to position her former chief of staff and spokesperson as Chief Justice under an administration (whoever may be proclaimed the victor) that is poised to investigate her administration?s anomalies,? Salcedo said in a statement.
She added: ?We note that Justice Corona?s credentials are, without a doubt, impressive. But given his political background, there is a ready impression that it will be a challenge for him to maintain the independence of the judiciary and the mandate that justice be served, especially with respect to anomalies of the Arroyo administration, including extrajudicial killings and accusations of plunder.
?[He was] appointed under controversy by a President whom he used to defend for a living. If the next administration will respect this appointment, we can only hope that he will overcome the bias that comes with having once been part of the Arroyo administration.?
Bernas: Wait and see
Constitutionalist Fr. Joaquin Bernas gave the tribunal to be led by Corona a chance to prove itself.
?It?s an Arroyo Court. All its members are appointed by [the President]. But how they will perform ? we have to wait and see,? he told the Inquirer on the phone.
Bernas said the public had ?no choice? on the matter.
?[Corona] has all the qualifications under the Constitution. That?s all I can say,? he said.
Bernas was one of the leaders of the Supreme Court Appointments? Watch, which closely monitored how Ms Arroyo made seven appointments to the tribunal in 2009.
The series of appointments filled the high court with Ms Arroyo?s appointees, with the exception of outgoing Chief Justice Puno, who was appointed by President Fidel Ramos. Reports from Christine O. Avendaño, TJ Burgonio, Gil C. Cabacungan Jr., Edson C. Tandoc Jr., Norman Bordadora, Jerome Aning, and Christian Esguerra