BESIEGED by criticisms from various groups on the Judicial and Bar Council’s (JBC) decision to open the nomination for the next chief justice, the High Court on Tuesday changed tact and urged political leaders to keep the nomination and selection process out of partisan politics.

Supreme Court (SC) spokesman Jose Midas Marquez said constitutional process are already well in place and if there are any issues on whether President Arroyo can appoint the successor of Chief Justice Reynato Puno, the SC is the best arbiter in that score.

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Puno is set to retire on May 17, which is within the election period that prohibits the President from making appointments.

“I would suggest that they allow the (JBC’s) selection and nomination process to proceed. If they have some pronouncements, it is best to keep the justices or the SC from partisan statements, especially for those who are running for president,” said Marquez.

Four presidentiables were earlier reported to be balking from the moves of Malacanang to hasten the nomination process even though an actual vacancy for the chief justice post has yet to exist.

It was first proposed by JBC member Quezon City Representative Matias Defensor, an ally of Arroyo, who claimed that a vacuum in the top judicial post might create a constitutional crisis.

Among those who have taken exceptions to this view were Senators Benigno Noynoy Aquino, Manny Villar, former President Joseph Estrada, and former Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro of the administration party.

Aquino said that should he win the election, he would ask his political allies in the Senate and House of Representatives to impeach the chief justice to be appointed by Arroyo.

Villar’s camp also slammed a possible midnight appointment of the next chief justice to be appointed by Arroyo. “Arroyo must not appoint, taking into consideration public opinion, the political factor and the constitutional prohibition to do midnight appointments,” said his spokesman, Gilbert Remulla.

Estrada said it should be the next president who should appoint the next chief justice, citing the election ban in the constitution.

“While it is the prerogative of the President to appoint the next chief justice, President Estrada is still appealing that the chance to appoint should be given to the next president,” said Estrada’s spokesperson, Margaux Salcedo.

Teodoro, for his part, said the appointment of Puno’s successor must be done with transparency to protect the credibility and integrity of the judicial processes.

“I urge them to review the specific provisions of the Constitution and its system and I would also urge them to approach the exercise of or recommending on the process of selecting the next chief justice,” he said.

The JBC has started accepting applications and endorsements for the position of chief justice and will publish the names of candidates soon. Among the contenders for the posts are the five most senior justices, namely, Associate Justices Antonio Carpio, Renato Corona, Conchita Carpio-Morales, Presbitero Velasco Jr. and Antonio Eduardo Nachura. (JCV/Sunnex)