THE Supreme Court (SC) is open to holding special sessions if necessary in order to fast-track the resolution of disqualification cases that would be brought to their attention by candidates disqualified by the Commission on Election (Comelec).

Chief Justice Reynato Puno said in an ambush interview at the signing of Republic Act 9946, or “An Act Granting Additional Retirement, Survivorship, and Other Benefits to Members of the Judiciary” Wednesday that the High Court could not simply adopt and sustain the Comelec decision on the disqualification case, stressing the need to review them and observe due process.

Click here for stories and updates on the Sinulog 2010 Festival.

“No way, no way, no way. It is our constitutional duty to review these decisions and find out if there is a grave abuse of discretion,” he said when asked about the Comelec and National Security Council’s call for the SC to simply sustain the decision on the disqualification cases to be able to start the printing of ballots soon.

According to Puno, it is still speculative at the moment to say that there would be a delay in the printing of ballots since “we don’t know the magnitude of the problem at this point of time.”

He added it is not yet certain how many disqualification cases there are, when the Comelec would resolve them and the number of disqualified people who would appeal their case in the Supreme Court.

“Without these statistics, I'm not free to speculate on what will be the impact of these pending disqualification cases but we assure the Comelec that if there is a need for the High Court to hold a special session in order to fast track the resolution of these cases, we shall be happy to do so. I shall call the high court to a special session.”

The Chief Justice meanwhile acknowledged that at present there are already a “handful” of the disqualification cases they are looking into.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said the Comelec and the National Security Council ere merely sounding off concerns about the election preparations and at the same time reminding the SC of the urgency of an early resolution of the disqualification cases that would be filed with them.

Ermita added that the High Court is a separate branch and they could not be dictated upon and it is expected that they would not just affirm whatever the Comelec decide.

“It’s only proper… But the point is, following the process, everyone is authorized to bring their case before the Supreme Court. So ano lamang iyan, it’s a matter of appreciation by the members of the Supreme Court especially that the Comelec which is also a separate constitution body already voiced their concern,” he said.

The Palace official however assured that the Comelec would have their own backup plans to avoid any delay in the elections should the SC eventually overturn Comelec decisions on the disqualification of some candidates once the printing of ballots start.

In a related development, President Arroyo signed into law a bill increasing the retirement and other benefits of the judges from the regional, metropolitan, and municipal trial courts and shari’a district courts to make it at par with members of the SC and Court of Appeals.

The signing of Republic Act No. 9946, or “An Act Granting Additional Retirement, Survivorship, and Other Benefits to Members of the Judiciary” was witnessed by Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and House Speaker Prospero Nograles who are the principal authors of Senate Bill No. 1620 and House Bill No. 6820.

Also present were SC Chief Justice Puno, Executive Secretary Ermita, and Judge Concepcion Buencamino who represented the retired members of the Judiciary.

In attendance too were Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, House Deputy Speaker Amelita Villarosa, Representatives Matias Defensor (Quezon City), Marcelino Teodoro (Marikina City), Ronald Singson (1st Dist., Ilocos Sur), Arthur Defensor (Iloilo), Edgardo Chatto (Bohol), Magtanggol Gunigundo (Valenzuela City), Eufrocino Codilla (Leyte), and Manuel Agyao (Kalinga).

The law amends Republic Act No. 910, which earlier increased the amount of pension of retiring judges and justices of SC and Appellate Court and provided scholarship to one legitimate child and extended survivorship benefits to their surviving spouse and dependent children.

The passage of the new law is expected to attract more lawyers to join and serve in the judiciary which would lead to an increase in the number of trial court judges.

The increasing of judges is aimed at hastening and enhancing the administration of justice and the delivery of judicial services to the people. (JMR/Sunnex)