SC rules President Aquino can appoint next chief justice

July 5, 2012 9:28 pm 

By Perfecto T. Raymundo Jr.

MANILA, July 5 – The Supreme Court (SC) ruled on Thursday that President Benigno S. Aquino III has the authority to appoint the next chief justice and the most senior justice of the SC shall sit as chairman of the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) in case of vacancy in the JBC.

This was after the SC en banc, in a seven-page resolution, denied the petition seeking to stop the JBC from convening since there is vacuum in the position of chief justice who shall sit as chairperson of the JBC.

It dismissed the petition of taxpayer Famela Dulay for lack of merit and legal standing to pursue the case for she is not directly an affected party.

The SC said that the President can appoint the next chief justice following the letters of the 1987 Constitution, particularly Section 9 of Article VIII.

"…the phrase 'Member of the Supreme Court' was repeatedly used to refer not only to the Associate Justices of the Supreme Court but includes the Chief Justice. Thus, in Section 9 of the same Article VIII on the appointment of Justices and Judges, the phrase 'Members of the Supreme Court' clearly refers to the fifteen justices of the Court — one Chief Justice and fourteen Associate Justices — who are within the appointing power of the President," the SC resolution said.

The SC cited the case of Vargas v. Rilloraza which was decided under an older Constitution of the Philippines which states that "there can be no doubt that the Chief Justice and the Associate Justices required xxxxx to compose the Supreme Court are the regular members of the Court."

It also dismissed the argument that the JBC can only be chaired by the incumbent chief justice and no one else.

"We likewise do not agree with petitioner that the JBC can only be headed by the incumbent chief justice and no other. The petitioner, in effect, argues that the JBC cannot perform its task without an incumbent chief justice. To follow this logic would lead to an eventuality where a vacancy in the Judiciary will not be filled if a vacancy occurs in the JBC. We can likewise infer from this argument that if the Office of the Chief Justice is vacated, the same will not be filled because there will be no incumbent Chief Justice to act as Chairman of the JBC," the SC said.

It said that the principal function of the JBC is to recommend appointees to the Judiciary and "it cannot, therefore, be compromised only because the constitutionally-named Chairman could not sit in the JBC."

"Although it would be preferable if the membership of the JBC is complete, the JBC can still operate to perform its mandated task of submitting the list of nominees to the President even if the constitutionally named ex-officio Chairman does not sit in the JBC. This intention is evident from the exchanges among the Commissioners during the deliberations of the Constitutional Commission of 1986," the SC said.

It said that they must not be deprived of their representation since the most senior justice of the High Court, who is not an applicant for the Chief Justice post can preside over the JBC proceedings.

"Considering, however, that complete membership in the JBC is preferable and pursuant to its supervisory power over the JBC, this court should not be deprived of representation. The most senior justice of this Court who is not an applicant for the position of chief justice should participate in the deliberations for the selection of nominees for the said vacant post and preside over the proceedings in the absence of the said constitutionally named Ex-Officio Chairman," the SC added.

It can be recalled that Dulay asked the SC to issue a temporary restraining order (TRO) to enjoin the JBC from further accepting applications for nomination and interview of nominees for the appointment of the Chief Justice.

The position of Chief Justice was vacated with the removal from office of Chief Justice Renato C. Corona, who was impeached for culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust on May 29, 2012.

Dulay cited Section 9, Article VIII of the 1987 Constitution which said: "The members of the Supreme Court and judges of lower courts shall be appointed by the President from a list of at least three nominees prepared by the Judicial and Bar Council for every vacancy. Such appointments need no confirmation."

Dulay argued that from the said constitutional provision, "it is clear, like a crystal ball that the President of the Republic of the Philippines can only appoint members or justices but not a Chief Justice of the Honorable Supreme Court, through the list of at least three (3) nominees prepared and submitted by the respondent Honorable JBC." (PNA)

scs/PTR

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