GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/30 December)– President Benigno Simeon Aquino III has asked his legal team for a list from which to choose the possible replacement of Chief Justice Renato C. Corona and he or she must be in the mold of Associate Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno. Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda told reporters last December 27 (Philippine Star and Philippine Daily Inquirer online, December 28).
The President, in a television interview [ABS-CBN News Channel’s (ANC’s) “Strictly Politics” as reported by Philippine Star and Philippine Daily Inquirer, December 29] “before Christmas Day”, said that the next Chief Justice “is the best”, not “a lapdog”, obviously emphasizing — in his judgment — the opposite of Corona’s unfitness.
The statements should be appreciated for their political and ethical boldness, frankness and intent but they are imprudent. They prove beyond doubt that President Aquino is the obsessed prime mover of the impeachment of Corona. The truth is too bare to cover up; is, be it grated, too necessary and imperative to need justification; but is better left to the nation to affirm – without the Palace and the President himself confirming it.
Understandably, the President wants the nation not to make a mistake about his resolve to change CJ Corona; and, after that he wants the Supreme Court to reform. The Court, he said, has become untouchable and ineffective in its check-and-balance role; no one dare question its decisions. This he has done and he wants the nation to support him.
The Court, he said, “is at a point where no one … in practice nobody could review what [the high court] has done. It seems no one challenges whether [the Court decisions] are right. Could their perceptions be right? And I think I made public the issues that that we find disagreement with”.
Challenging the decisions of the Court has created the conflict between him and Corona, between the Executive and the Judiciary. Corona’s impeachment, he said, is the “step embodied in the Constitution which resolves a conflict of this nature”. His meaning is clear: He is not just challenging the decisions of the Corona Court; he is having Corona impeached for standing by the challenged decisions.
But in so doing, the Palace is exercising not just the right to dissent but treading over the time-honored co-equal doctrine separating the executive, legislative and judicial branches in the presidential system of government in the Philippines. Impeachment is the power solely vested in the Congress.
Despite Lacierda’s belabored justification, the President, in wanting a list of Corona’s possible replacement, was ill-advised or he just threw prudence to the wind. Has Aquino weighed well where he is taking the Presidency?
First, he sees the conviction of Corona. That’s preempting the Senate’s judgment as the impeachment court. Is he sending the same message the House had obliged to heed?
Second, the list only satisfies wishful thinking. By the Constitution, only the Judicial and Bar Council, following its own rules, can submit a list of at least three nominees from which the President can appoint a judge to fill in a vacancy – from the Supreme Court to the lowest court. Of what use then is the President’s list?
In the eventuality that Corona is convicted, will he subvert the Constitution by picking from the list his nominees to be submitted to JBC at his behest? That will render his much-hyped tuwid na daan (straight road) plain hypocrisy.
Third, Citizen Benigno Simeon Aquino III is right: the Chief Justice must be “the best”, not “a lapdog”. But, as President, Citizen Aquino must bow to the Constitution which has prescribed [Article VIII, Section 7(3)] the basic criteria for judges. The JBC must have expanded these criteria in its rules and must be beyond the dictate of any President.
Is it not most prudent for the President to trust the probity and integrity of the members of the Judicial and Bar Council letting them do freely their constitutional mandate?
Obsessed with his mission to eradicate completely corruption in government, President Aquino has placed all his eggs in one incubator and is counting the chicks before they are hatched. What if the incubator is short-circuited?
Earlier in this space, we wrote that in having Corona impeached President Aquino was “crossing his Rubicon” with all the risk of sinking midstream. Now he is celebrating long before he could overcome the perils midstream.
Should Corona be acquitted, Aquino’s mission will virtually be aborted, his Presidency crippled. The hostility between the Court and the Palace will hamper the prosecution of corruption cases under the Arroyo administration – seemingly “the be all and end all” of the Aquino mission. And the Corona Court will outlive the Aquino Presidency.
Will President Aquino fall back on his popularity and convoke people power? Will that be prudent? That will be another Rubicon to cross. (Patricio P. Diaz, General Santos City/MindaNews)