CEBU CITY -- Former President Joseph Estrada joined calls for President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to allow her successor to name the next head of the Supreme Court (SC) vice Chief Justice Reynato Puno.

Estrada, in an ambush interview at the wake of the late Press Secretary Cerge Remonde at the Malacañang sa Sugbu, said Arroyo should follow the example of her father, former president Disosdado Macapagal, who is against midnight appointments.

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“After May 10 election, there'll be a new president, and the incumbent president after May 10 election automatically becomes only the caretaker of government so my position is let the new president appoint the chief justice,” he said.

Puno will retire on May 17 or a week after the presidential elections. Under the Constitution, a president is barred from making appointments two months before the election up to the end of one's term.

Malacañang officials said Arroyo could make the appointment, provided that a list of nominees is submitted by the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC). They added that such appointment is intended to avoid a judicial gap or hiatus.

Apart from Estrada, several opposition leaders like Senator Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III and former senator Franklin Drilon also favored the appointment of Puno's successor by the next president. Under the law, the president has 90 days to fill up the vacancy in the courts.

Estrada said Arroyo's insistence of appointing a new Supreme Court (SC) justice would go against the stand of his father.

“President Diosdado Macapagal when president (Carlos) Garcia gave a midnight appointee to chief justice (Andres) Castillo, her father rejected it. He said it was a midnight appointee. So I think Arroyo should follow her father's footsteps,” he said, referring to Administrative Order No. 2 that Macapagal issued in December 1961 cancelling 350 appointments made by Garcia.

The cancellation of the appointments was raised by Dominador Aytona to the Supreme Court after his appointment as governor of Central Bank was cancelled by Macapagal.

Aytona, who was appointed by Garcia, was replaced by Macapagal with Andres Castillo as governor of Central Bank, not as the High Court's chief justice, which the Supreme Court upheld stressing that the appointments made by the outgoing president are temporary or only on acting capacity to give the next leader a chance to appoint their choices.

Estrada assured that should Arroyo follow Macapagal's stand, there would be no problem about the appointments or vacancy.

“It cannot be unfilled because among themselves they can appoint an acting SC Chief Justice, not necessarily appointed by the president. They can get an acting Supreme Court Chief cause for concern,” he said.

Support for Rama

Meanwhile, Estrada said he is likely to support the candidacy of Cebu City Vice Mayor Michael Rama who is vying for the mayoralty race in the coming May elections.

Estrada admitted that no candidates in Cebu had asked for his endorsement but he favors the mayoralty bid of Rama.

Rama of the Pundok-Kauswagan, which is allied with the Liberal Party, is running against former Cebu City mayor Alvin Garcia of the Kugi Uswag Sugbu.

Garcia, cousins of Cebu Governor Gwendolyn Garcia and Government Service Insurance System president-chief executive officer Winston Garcia who are both allies of the Arroyo administration, was mayor of Cebu when Estrada was the president.

Alvin was vice mayor from 1988 to 1995 and mayor from 1995 to 1998. He ran in 2001 and 2004 for mayor but lost in both polls to incumbent Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmena.

Rama, who is the outgoing vice mayor of Cebu and supported by Osmena, is the president of the Vice Mayors' League of the Philippines, and a former councilor of Cebu.

He is the grandson of the late senator Vicente Rama and nephew of former Cebu Governor Osmundo Rama and Manila Bulletin publisher Napoleon Rama. (JMR/Sunnex)