Davao Lawyers Oppose Midnight Appointment of Chief Justice

Davao Today

Posted by Bulatlat.com

DAVAO CITY – Davao lawyers are restive over the issue of the President’s impending appointment of a new Chief Justice, following a Supreme Court ruling that allows her to do this despite a ban on this action in the Philippine Constitution.

Eight lawyers’ groups, namely: the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) Davao City and Davao del Sur Chapters, the Davao Chapters of the Union of Peoples’ Lawyers in Mindanao (UPLM), the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), the Philippine Association of Law Schools (PALS), Alternative Law Groups (ALG), Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), the Ateneo de Davao Legal Advocacy Works (AdDLAW), and two law students’ groups Al Sabr and Ateneo Law Student Council, came together at the IBP-Davao office on Monday for an emergency press briefing to alert the public on how this recent move of the Supreme Court could affect the smooth transition of power as the country faces the most controversial Presidential elections yet in history.

The lawyers warned that this recent development is part of the President’s plan to stay in power beyond June 30, 2010, when her term supposedly ends.

Lawyer Jefferson Yap of AdDLAW pointed out the danger of giving the President authority to appoint the new Chief Justice. He said that in the wake of the May 10 elections, the position of the Chief Justice will be critical because it is the judiciary who decides on election contests.

“While the Supreme Court has spoken, it has spoken wrongly and disturbingly,” Lawyer Manuel Quibod, regional coordinator of FLAG in Southern Mindanao, said. He pointed out that (allowing the President to appoint the Chief Justice) was like amending the Constitutional prohibition against midnight appointments.
Quibod said Section 15, Article VII of the Philippine Constitution cites a ban on midnight appointments, “in no uncertain terms.”

The ban is supposed to take effect on March 10 to June 30, pending the country’s elections in May. But the Supreme Court ruled on March 17 that the incumbent President can now appoint the successor of Chief Justice Reynato Puno once he retires on May 17.

Some of the Supreme Court justices stated that such a ban does not extend to appointments in the judiciary.

Malacanang allies also defended the move by saying that the President’s appointment was necessary to ensure that there would be no vacancy in the top Supreme Court post after Puno retires seven days after election time.

But Quibod said there is a mechanism to ensure that such vacancy is filled without the President having to make the appointment. The Judiciary Act of 1948 cites that the most senior member of the Supreme Court could act as Chief Justice in an acting capacity should a vacancy in such position occur.

The ALG also slammed the argument of the Supreme Court and Malacanang allies as “without merit.”

“Assuming that it would be wise to appoint a successor on the day of the retirement of an incumbent Chief Justice, one cannot follow such formula if doing so would violate the clear prohibition against appointments,” the ALG said in its statement.

ALG also said that if an earlier Supreme Court ruling applied the ban on midnight appointment on President Ramos’ appointment of two trial judges in 1998, then, it should also apply with greater force on Arroyo’s appointment of the next Chief Justice.
“Arroyo’s action with respect to the appointment is more suspect,” the ALG statement said. “Between Ramos and Arroyo, the latter has the greater propensity to influence the outcome of the elections, given that she is a candidate.”

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is also gunning for a congressional seat in Pampanga on the May 2010 elections. (Posted by Bulatlat.com)

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