THE Supreme Court (SC) has affirmed the validity of the appointment of former Cebu City judge Geraldine Faith Econg and former Malacañang undersecretary for special concerns Michael Frederick Musngi as associate justices of the Sandiganbayan.

The SC’s en banc dismissed the petition of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP), which claimed that former president Benigno Aquino III violated the Constitution when he appointed the two last January without following the rules for appointments.

No violation

“Aquino did not violate the Constitution or commit grave abuse of discretion in disregarding the clustering of nominees into six separate shortlists for the six vacancies for Sandiganbayan associate justice,” read the SC’s en banc decision penned by Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo-Castro.

IBP national president Atty. Rosario Setias-Reyes had said that Aquino should have chosen one from each of the list of nominees from the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) for every vacancy in the judiciary.

After signing into law Republic Act 10660, or the Act Strengthening Further the Functional and Structural Organization of the Sandiganbayan, Aquino named six new justices to the Sandiganbayan last January.

The JBC’s nominees were Philip Aguinaldo, Reynaldo Alhambra, Danilo Cruz, Benjamin Pozon, Danilo Sandoval, and Salvador Timbang Jr.

Aquino, though, chose the 16th member of the Sandiganbayan from the candidates endorsed by the JBC for the 21st justice of the Sandiganbayan: Econg, Musngi, Wilhelmina Jor-ge-Wagan, Rosanna Fe Romero-Maglaya, Merian-the Pacita Zuraek, Elmo Alameda and Victoria Fernandez-Bernardo.

Prerogative

The lawyer’ group said public funds were “illegally disbursed, deflected to an improper use, or wasted through the enforcement of an invalid or unconstitutional law.”

Aquino, through the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), sought the dismissal of the petition on procedural and substantive grounds.

The OSG argued that Aquino should be dropped as a respondent in the case on the ground of his immunity from suit since he was incumbent president when the petition was filed.

Econg, for her part, said the petitioners had “no clear, unquestionable franchise” merely because they had been included in the shortlist submitted for the president’s consideration.

In the decision, the SC ruled that Aquino’s appointment of Econg and Musngi to the Sandiganbayan was valid.

The JBC’s power to recommend cannot be used to restrict or limit the president’s power to appoint, the SC said.

“The president’s pre-rogative to choose someone whom he/she considers worth appointing to the vacancy in the judiciary is still paramount,” the SC said.