Bernas: GMA can name acting chief justice
() - January 23, 2010 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Two provisions of the Constitution governing the appointment of a new chief justice contradict each other, according to one of the framers of the Constitution.

Fr. Joaquin Bernas, a member of the 1986 Constitutional Commission, said Article VIII Section 4 mandates the President to name a new chief justice within 90 days after a vacancy occurs.

On the other hand, Article VII Section 15 bans the President from making appointments two months before the next presidential elections and up to the end of her term, he added.

Speaking at a forum in Manila yesterday, Bernas said to resolve the contradiction, President Arroyo can name an acting chief justice after Reynato Puno retires on May 17 from among the senior Supreme Court justices to serve until the next president appoints a new chief justice before Aug. 15.

“I don’t see any problem with the brief absence of a chief justice,” he said.

Bernas said the acting chief justice could act on administrative matters while the full court continues to take charge of cases for deliberation.

“The very dangerous thing here is to let the SC fight over this; that the justices will fight among themselves,” he said.

“This will destroy the credibility of the Supreme Court.”

Reacting to Bernas’s opinion, SC spokesman Midas Marquez said a duly appointed chief justice must be in office during the election period.

“Before the Supreme Court as Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET) decides on cases, the Chief Justice decides on whether or not the cases would be forwarded to the en banc (full court) for deliberation,” he said.   

The PET resolves cases and protests involving presidential and vice presidential elections, Marquez said.

At Malacañang, deputy presidential spokesperson Gary Olivar said Mrs. Arroyo can appoint a new chief justice even if the Judicial and Bar Council would not submit a shortlist of candidates after Puno retires on May 17.

“For now, let us focus on the laudable fact that the JBC agreed to start the process of nomination,” he said.

“But we are hopeful that they (JBC) forward the shortlist as soon as possible.”

Olivar said the opinion of legal luminaries like retired SC justices and the Philippine Constitution Association have upheld Mrs. Arroyo’s prerogative to appoint a chief justice.

“Depending on when it gets to her, or if the day (of vacancy) comes and there is no shortlist submitted to her, I think the President would make a decision at that point,” he said.      – Edu Punay, Paolo Romero

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