Friday, January 29, 2010
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We interrupt this blog-blackout with a statement from the AIM Policy Center, through its Executive Director, my cousin and counsel, Prof. Ma. Lourdes Punzalan Aranal-Sereno, a former professor of the UP College of Law and one of its valedictorians:


The Philippines’ Long-Term Economic Interests Demand These

It does not take a legal luminary to conclude that the prohibition against President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo appointing any future Member of the Supreme Court, whether as Chief Justice or Associate Justice, is absolute beginning March 11, 2010 and subsists until the end of her term on June 30, 2010. The Constitution in unequivocal language imposes this ban under Article VII, Section 15 and in the same section admits of only one exception when three conditions simultaneously concur:

(1) the appointment is to an executive position,
(2) the appointment is temporary, and
(3) the continued vacancy will prejudice public service or public safety.

No argument can be produced from the most strenuous interpretation of the law that the first two requirements of the above provision are present. The third requirement – that continued vacancy in the Office of the Chief Justice during the electoral ban will prejudice public service or public safety - is also totally absent. The Constitution itself by implication, and the Supreme Court’s standing rules and tradition since its founding, provide the solution to the temporary vacancy – automatic assumption of the office by an Acting Chief Justice. Only the most twisted logic can propose that the Constitution’s and Supreme Court’s long-observed solution in case of
a temporary vacancy is itself the ill, and thus must be negated.

Further, there is no such thing in law as a “Chief-Justice-in-Waiting” in the same manner that there is no such thing as a “public-officer-in-waiting.” No appointment to the judiciary can ever be temporary, and no proposal is more ludicrous than that President Arroyo can appoint Chief Justice Puno’s future successor even while he still occupies the office. No appointment of whatever nature can be made to an office that is not vacant. Article VIII, Section 4 (1) does not provide any support to Congressman Defensor’s proposal.

In addition to the legal clarity of the relevant Constitutional provisions, there is an even bigger imperative why the country collectively must put a stop to this attempt to defeat the Constitution.

The two most credible survey institutions in the country – the Social Weather Station (SWS) and Pulse Asia – and three of the most highly-reputed international institutions that survey national perceptions - Transparency International, the International Institute for Management and Development and the World Economic Forum, show a Filipino people that is tired of corruption, desperate for change, and in the case of the SWS survey, fearful enough that if change does not come if the May 2010 elections fail, will probably take to the streets once again.

The Defensor proposal is an attack on the judiciary. Instead of allowing a peaceful and orderly transition from the incumbent Chief Justice to his successor, the proposal, if successful, will taint the Office of the Chief Justice as nothing has. The SWS survey identifies the incumbent President as the most distrusted President post- Marcos, and the First Gentleman persistently as the most distrusted Philippine personality, private or public. Whoever accepts the appointment from President Arroyo as next Chief Justice will in all likelihood be perceived as benefiting from a clearly illegal act by the most distrusted President in the Philippines; someone willing to risk throwing the country into chaos for his or her personal advantage.

Chief Justice Puno is likewise under attack on two fronts. First, a clean constitutional solution to allow President Arroyo to appoint the next Chief Justice requires that Chief Justice Puno retire prematurely and it is not inconceivable that all kinds of pressure are being devised to deny him the pleasure of living out his time in the judiciary in peace until his 70th birthday. Second, pressure is being brought to make him change his mind and refuse refuge in his vote in the case of In Re Valenzuela. In that case, the Supreme Court unanimously declared that the ban on President Ramos’ power to make appointments to the judiciary from two months before the elections until the end of his term is absolute. There is no material distinction between an Associate Justice and the Chief Justice that will allow a departure from the said precedent. Indeed, this Chief Justice has voting power equal to each of his colleagues such that he often found himself in the minority even while Chief Justice. Modest, scholarly and hardworking, Chief Justice Puno ascended his seat through sheer hard work and determination. He has shown independence of mind at great personal cost. It is time that Filipinos recognize his courage and support the man who has spent the past year publicly leading a movement for internal and societal revolutions through the force of moral convictions.

Should the incumbent President actually appoint the next Chief Justice, it proves two suspicions about her correct – her proclivity to overreach into forbidden territory, and that she fears that the rule of law, post-Arroyo, will not produce her desired outcomes. Both attitudes in turn will explain the perception that, by pushing the country into constitutional crises many times over, she has wittingly or unwittingly been destroying its institutions. Our economic future depends on the viability of our institutions. We must believe they can be saved and rebuilt. Let us do our utmost to preserve that hope.


Executive Director
892-4011 local 2108

(This statement may be freely distributed and published subject to the usual requirement of accuracy and attribution.)

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