THE Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) Cebu City chapter has passed a resolution against the planned appointment of a “chief justice in-waiting,” who will replace Chief Justice Reynato Puno who retires on May 17.

Atty. Michael Yu, chapter president, said there is no basis under the Constitution and any law for selecting a chief justice now, adding that there is instead an existing mechanism of succession that is backed both by law and by precedent.

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“There will be no vacuum in the functioning of the Supreme Court even if there is no Chief Justice between May 17 and June 30,” Yu said in an interview with Sun.Star Cebu.

Legal experts warn against allowing President Arroyo to pick the next chief justice, saying it places the integrity of the Supreme Court (SC) into question some more as people might think the President is filling up its ranks now with people she can call upon for favors once she leaves Malacañang and loses her current immunity from suits.

The same experts said there are now 14 Arroyo appointees in the 15-person body.

Yu said they have submitted their resolution to the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC), which has reportedly started the selection process, as well as to the SC.

The IBP’s sentiment, on the other hand, is echoed by the Makati Business Club, which issued a formal statement yesterday, as well as all contenders in the May presidential elections.

The move to select a chief justice-in- waiting came as a proposal from Rep. Matias Defensor.

He wants the JBC to expedite the release of a short list of potential replacements to Chief Justice Puno.

The list, in turn, will be sent to Arroyo for appointment.

But, Yu explained, the President cannot simply appoint somebody as chief justice since the post is still occupied.

And, if she indeed wants to be the appointment authority of the next chief justice, she also cannot wait for Puno’s retirement because, under the Constitution, the President is prohibited from issuing any appointments two months before the end of her term.

Term

In moving for the selection of a “chief justice in-waiting”, the proponent cites necessity – the dangerous effect of not having a Chief Justice between May 17 and the start of the next president’s term.

Both Yu and the IBP Cebu City chapter resolution say no such danger exists.

Yu said the Judiciary Act of 1948 states that the next highest ranking Associate Justice is to assume the position of Chief Justice after the incumbent retires and before a replacement can be appointed.

He maintained that while a newer law, Batas Pambansa 129, otherwise known as the Judiciary Act of 1980, supersedes the 1948 statute, it does not amend the provision on succession.

Likewise, anticipating arguments that the 1987 Constitution renders both the 1948 and 1980 laws obsolete, Yu said enacting a new charter does not render old laws repealed unless it is declared inconsistent by enabling statutes.

“This has been tested when Chief Justice (Marcelo) Fernan resigned to run for Vice President. President Aquino did not appoint a new Chief Justice, allowing Chief Justice Andres Narvasa to assume the position,” Yu said.

It is a position that is backed by the Makati Business Club which issued an official statement.

“We reject arguments warning of the dangers of a period when there will be no Chief Justice from May 17 to June 30. Judicial power is vested in the entire court and not on the Chief Justice alone,” the business group said.

Yu, in his interview with Sun.Star, said people doubting the integrity of a Judiciary whose members were all appointed by one authority will be normal, adding that, being a collegial body, the High Court resolves controversies by voting.

He said with the way the votes have been cast in favor of the administration in a list of recent cases, there is cause to wonder.

For example, Yu cited the High Court’s ruling in the case of Quinto vs. Comelec, where the Arroyo-appointee dominated Supreme Court ruled, with three members dissenting, that appointed officials who run for elective positions aren’t deemed to have resigned from their old posts.

“Many cabinet members are running,” Yu said. He also cited the 9-5-vote of the High Court in the case of Penera vs. Comelec, where justices ruled that a person who has filed his or her certificate of candidacy isn’t really a candidate until the campaign period begins.