TACLOBAN CITY, Philippines - Condemnations continue to pummel the Supreme Court (SC) for its landmark ruling allowing President Arroyo to name the next chief justice despite an election ban on appointments.
Liberal Party senatorial candidate Franklin Drilon told reporters here that the SC’s issuance of the ruling might be “part of President Arroyo’s grand plan to remain in power.”
He said he is appealing to Mrs. Arroyo to let the next president appoint the successor of Chief Justice Reynato Puno who retires on May 17.
“While I reckon that my appeal would likely be ignored, or suntok sa buwan (wishful thinking) as we say in the local parlance, it is actually anchored on my genuine concern that the Supreme Court, as the final arbiter in our judicial system, should be able to maintain its image of independence and integrity in the eyes of the Filipino people as we transition to the next administration,” Drilon said.
The SC, dominated by Arroyo appointees, voted on Wednesday to allow the President to appoint the next SC chief.
The magistrates ruled that the ban on appointments under Article VII Section 15 of the Constitution does not apply to the post of chief justice.
Another administration critic said the SC ruling has shown that it is likely to rule in favor of Mrs. Arroyo if she hangs on to the presidency in a holdover capacity in case of a failure of elections.
“With the justices’ decision allowing her to appoint the next chief justice despite the constitutional ban on midnight appointments, I am almost sure they will support her as holdover president,” Rep. Rufus Rodriguez of Cagayan de Oro City said.
“She cannot stay a minute longer in office even if there is failure of elections. There is no such thing as a holdover president. But her loyalists in the Supreme Court can invent that job for her, especially if none of her constitutional successors can assume the presidency even in an acting capacity,” he stressed.
He noted that in 2001, when then President Joseph Estrada left Malacañang at the height of a people power revolt, the high tribunal introduced the principle of “constructive resignation” to justify then Vice President Gloria Arroyo’s ascension to the presidency.
“That principle, like the position of holdover president, does not exist in the Constitution. Either you resign or you don’t, and President Erap (Estrada) never resigned,” he said.
Rodriguez said it is possible that Mrs. Arroyo’s allies would convene shortly after her term expires on June 30 and elect her Speaker to justify her continued stay in office as acting president. Mrs. Arroyo is running for congresswoman in Pampanga.
Rodriguez said the Speaker might assume the presidency in an acting capacity if there is no Senate president, who is third in the line of succession to the highest office after the vice president.
“If there is a constitutional challenge, Mrs. Arroyo’s loyalists in the Supreme Court could reason out that she is the newly elected Speaker and she could stay on as president, even if temporarily in an acting capacity,” he said.
He said that aside from a last-minute glitch in the poll automation system, a power crisis in Mindanao might disrupt the May 10 elections.
“I feel that the government is not solving the crisis. We still have brownouts as long as eight to 10 hours a day. It will be chaos if this is the situation on balloting day,” he said.
In Baguio City, LP standard-bearer Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III said the SC might have in effect unlawfully amended the Constitution with its decision.
“The last time I checked, amending the Constitution is not among its (SC) functions. They have no business amending the Charter,” Aquino told The STAR.
He said that while he respects the SC decision, he is preparing to file a motion for reconsideration or seek clarification.
LP senatorial candidate detained Brig. Gen. Danilo Lim, for his part, said the SC ruling might spark another military uprising.
“Mrs. Arroyo is inviting a new military uprising,” he warned.
“Lest we forget, the possibility of a military uprising becomes real when democratic institutions are weakened to the point where the check and balance mechanisms are severely skewered, and when civilian authorities blatantly contravene the rule of law and the Constitution, as this government has done so many times,” he said.
“Can we blame the ordinary soldiers? When the judiciary is anything but luminous, when the legislature is the plaything of Malacañang and when our poll body is widely perceived as a cheating apparatus, can we fault the ordinary soldier if he decided to heed his conscience and rise up?” Lim asked.
Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay said there is still hope that SC justices will get enlightened and reverse their controversial ruling.
“There is still room for appeal and I, for one, am not losing hope that the magistrates will be enlightened by new arguments that will be presented before them,” Binay said.
“If we are to save our country from political uncertainty and thwart any attempt to undermine our democracy, then the SC decision should be reversed,” he added.
“Legitimizing Mrs. Arroyo’s right to name a successor to the retiring Chief Justice fits perfectly with her unfulfilled agenda to remain in power way beyond her term,” Binay said.
“The political repercussions are unimaginable, particularly when we consider the possibility of a failure of elections and the persistent doubts about the loyalty of the present AFP chief of staff,” Binay said.
Binay said delays in the automated election timetable as well the discovery of multiple registrants in several areas have spawned fears of failure of elections. Furthermore, he said, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) has yet to undertake a massive education campaign on the use of automated counting machines.
“We should anticipate a situation that no president will be declared before June 30 owing to a failure of elections. Add to this a Supreme Court perceived to be dominated by justices loyal to the appointing power, and a military headed by an Arroyo loyalist and you have the ingredients for political uncertainty that could plunge the country into chaos,” Binay said.
Binay said Mrs. Arroyo would certainly not think twice about appointing Puno’s successor as soon as she gets the final list of nominees from the Judicial and Bar Council.
Binay noted that drafters of the 1987 Constitution said there is no ambiguity in the provisions in the Charter on the ban on midnight appointments.
“I think they should be consulted on the proper interpretation of its provisions to ensure that the law is followed to the letter,” Binay said.
Meanwhile, former speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. said Mrs. Arroyo should leave it up to her successor to name the next SC chief justice “if she wants to go down in history as a morally upright president.”
“My God, she will be terrific if she does that and I sincerely propose that she does that,” De Venecia said. – With Jess Diaz, Alexis Romero, Eva Visperas, Jose Rodel Clapano