August 04, 2009
MANILA – The Supreme Court on Tuesday urged Malacañang to speed up the process of choosing replacements for Supreme Court Justices Alicia Austria Martinez and Dante Tinga who retired last April 30 and July 31 respectively.
Supreme Court Spokesman Midas Marquez said it is important to have 15 Supreme Court justices because that is how the high tribunal decides cases and most decisions are divided down the line. He added that the court is hoping that President Arroyo will make her decision known once she arrives from the United States.
On Monday, the eight-man Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) led by Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato Puno turned down President Arroyo’s request to expand the JBC list of nominees for the two vacant positions in the Supreme Court.
Marquez said the JBC voted unanimously to resend the original shortlist of six names to Malacañang.
In its reply-letter addressed to Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, the JBC maintained that the six nominees that were submitted to President Arroyo on June 26, 2009 were chosen following a thorough selection process in line with its mandate under the 1987 Constitution.
If it grants the Palace’s request, the JBC stressed that it would compromise its independence and contradicts the very purpose for its creation, which is to depoliticize appointments in the judiciary.
“With due respect, the JBC cannot acquiesce to your request to expand the short list of nominees submitted to your office. The decision whether to include three or more than three names in the short list of nominees exclusively belongs to the JBC,” the JBC said in a letter signed by Puno, its ex-officio chairman.
Marquez did not dismiss the possibility of a constitutional crisis in case President Arroyo would insist on adding more names in the list.
“As I’ve said the ball is in Malacanang’s hands already. I don’t know what they will do next, I don’t want to speculate on their actions. It’s up to them now,” Marquez said.
“I hope we will not reach that point [constitutional crisis]. If the President will return the list again, then the JBC again will have to reply. Then there could be a constitutional ping-pong. We don’t want that to happen. It’s really very important that the SC will have 15 justices, because that’s how we decide cases especially in very important cases…” he added.
The spokesman said the JBC is not to blame for the President’s failure to appoint the replacement of retired Associate Justice Austria-Martinez within the required 90-day period or until July 30.
He said the JBC submitted its shortlist to the Palace on June 26 or more than a month before the 90-day period lapsed, thus, giving the President ample time to study and choose from the list. Even when the list was returned to the JBC on July 30, Marquez said its eight members responded to it after a few days.
“The JBC has spoken, it has already explained its position that the six contenders passed through series of interviews, investigations, qualifications both from public and private officers were seriously considered, so the JBC has done its job in accordance with the mandate of the Constitution,” Marquez added.
JBC decision wins praise
Meanwhile, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) condemned Mrs. Arroyo’s decision to return the shortlist of nominees to the JBC, saying it constitutes a serious derogation of the functions of the panel.
IBP officer-in-charge and former SC justice Santiago Kapunan also said that such act of the executive department infringes on the independence of the JBC as a constitutional body.
Kapunan said the JBC should stand firm against succumbing to the request of Malacanang as it could erode its independence, pointed out that the rational for the establishment of the JBC is ‘to forestall as much as possible the influence of partisan politics.”
“By returning the list of nominees to the JBC, the clear implication is that the President does not want to appoint any of those nominated in the list. Unless the President states in categorical terms that she does not want to appoint any of the nominees in the list submitted by the JBC, she has hardly any legal justification or authority to require the JBC to submit additional names,” he said.
Sen. Francis ‘Kiko’ Pangilinan also lauded the Judicial Bar and Council’s refusal to modify its shortlist for SC vacancies that the Palace returned.
“The JBC is merely asserting its constitutional mandate by standing its ground. The President cannot go against this. It’s a basic institutional process of check and balance.”
Pangilinan urged the JBC not to give in to political pressure. “It has happened in the past that the JBC made a 180-degree turnaround in a position taken on an issue, and we hope that this will not happen in this case,” the former Senate representative to the JBC said.
Pangilinan also questioned Malacanang’s statement of a constitutional crisis if the JBC insists on its list. “We are dumbfounded by these statements. Why should the administration pressure a constitutionally appointed body to do its bidding?”
“What the administration should do is give a plausible explanation as to why they find the list unacceptable other than them exercising their executive privilege. These privileges should be exercised with discretion so as not to be misconstrued as an abuse of power,” he said.
Read the article in ABS-CBN News