January 24, 2010 in Featured
By NATIONAL UNION OFPEOPLES” LAWYERS
The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) view the running debate on the legality and propriety of appointing the next Chief Justice of the Supreme Court by the lameduck outgoing President Gloria Arroyo as going beyond the legal realm.
There is an abundance of legal bases that would easily have stopped President Arroyo’s band – Representative Matias Defensor Jr. and Department of Justice Secretary Agnes Devanedera, joined in by Presidential Legal Counsel Raul Gonzales and Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile – from even stoking the issue to advance their principal’s interests in naming and choosing the next Chief Justice. The Judicial and Bar Council is thus being politicized and painted into a corner by these orchestrated statements and moves that have the blessings of the Palace to prematurely submit a list of nominees.
Much has already been said about these legal bases to which we at NUPL fully agree with: the constitutional prohibition on appointments including the position of the Chief Justice two months immediately before the next presidential elections and up to the end of the President’s term (Article VII, Section 15), the well-settled jurisprudence that sustains this ban (In Re Appointments of Hon. Valenzuela and Hon. Vallarta, A.M. No. 98-5-01-SC November 9, 1998), and Section 12 of the Judiciary Act of 1948 (R.A. 296) that has survived the test of time and tradition that the most senior justice shall act as Chief Justice – all of which militate against the naming and choosing of the next Chief Justice by the very person who does not have the moral authority to do so: Mrs. Arroyo.
The real issue is not about the vacancy in the Chief Justice post that shall be created by the retirement of Chief Justice Puno because it poses no problem in the Court’s performance of its constitutional duties. The real issue is the rush of JBC members – Secretary Devanadera and Rep. Defensor – for the JBC to immediately convene and deliberate on the list of nominees for the Chief Justice post in order for President Arroyo to make the appointment before her term of office ends. Corollary to this is the apparent acquiescence of MalacaLang to this move as it has never repudiated such plan to date nor issued any statement that the President won’t appoint the next Chief Justice.
All these things are clearly suspect and full of political underpinnings. Why does President Arroyo appear to be so hot in appointing the next Chief Justice?
Thus far beyond all the legal debates and niceties – each lawyer can take either side depending on their legal analysis and what others say as partisan proclivities – are the higher questions or issues of principle. Is President Arroyo using this crucial situation regarding the impending vacancy on the post of Chief Justice to perpetuate herself in power, coming as it does on other previous telling indications that she is? Is President Arroyo manipulating this issue due to her well-founded fear of being held accountable by the people when she is scheduled to step down from the Presidency for credible and lingering charges of unbridled graft and corruption, rampant human rights violations, and midnight contracts – major issues that may ultimately have to come before and be resolved by the Supreme Court? It is very clear that the move for the JBC to immediately select the nominees is for President Arroyo to have a leverage and a bargaining power in the Court after her terms ends. If she makes the appointment of the next Chief Justice, all members of the Court will have been her appointees. And that is a huge leverage and bargaining power for political maneuvers and power play.
We at NUPL, as progressive lawyers that go beyond academic legal debates and relate these with the political, social and economic context and conditions of our society, view all these moves and statements by President Arroyo’s minions as ominous and betray her own sinister designs to perpetuate herself in power, cloak herself with immunity and dangle impunity, debase the post of the Chief Justice and of the Supreme Court itself. The teaching of history and experience is that the Chief Justice is key and crucial in the positions and opinions of the Court notwithstanding the professional origins and political orientation of some or all of its other members. The Court, especially the Chief Justice, must not be tainted with any suspicion of partiality or bias. And it would be unfair for the Chief Justice appointed to be placed in such a situation. A Damocles’sword is thus left hanging over the heads of whoever will be nominated or wish to be nominated.
These points must put into context this raging legal debate especially in view of the distinct scenarios of no elections, failure of elections or no proclamations of the highest elective posts up for grabs in May 2010. The NUPL believes that the outgoing President is quivering in her knees and is so desperate that naming and appointing a new Chief Justice that she expects – rightly or wrongly – to steer the Court to take her side and rescue is an offer she can not simply refuse. # nordis.net