CHIEF Justice Reynato Puno on Friday said he will inhibit himself from participating in the Supreme Court’s (SC) deliberation on several petitions involving the appointment of his successor.

He said his decision to voluntarily inhibit himself from the case was primarily due to his being the ex-officio chairman of the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC), which was named as respondent in all four petitions filed with the SC.

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“The JBC is the respondent; I’m the chairman of the JBC and they’re challenging the actions taken by the JBC so necessarily I have to inhibit,” Puno told reporters.

Puno is set to retire on May 17 upon reaching the mandatory age of retirement.

The selection for Puno’s successor has become controversial and sparked legal and political debates on whether Arroyo may appoint the next chief magistrate amid the ban on appointments two months before the May 10 elections, or beginning March 10, until the end of her term.

The eight-man council is constitutionally mandated to accept the nominations, conduct interviews and recommend nominees to vacant judicial posts.

When asked if he would encourage the five SC associate justices vying for the chief justice post to also inhibit from the case, Puno said: “That is addressed to the individual justices concerned.”

The five are Associate Justices Antonio Carpio, Renato Corona, Conchita Carpio Morales, Teresita Leonardo de Castro, and Arturo D. Brion.

“So far, there is no motion to inhibit any of the justices including those who set conditions to their nominations,” Puno said, referring to Carpio and Morales, who have both manifested their interest to be nominated for chief justice on the condition that their names will be submitted to the next President.

The outgoing SC chief also urged the public to avoid speculations about his upcoming retirement and allow the High Court to resolve the matter.

“Let’s suspend all our future thinking. I think the best thing to do is to wait for the decision of the Supreme Court,” Puno said.

Last Tuesday, the SC consolidated the petitions separately filed by the Philippine Constitution Association (Philconsa) and lawyers Estelito Mendoza, Arturo De Castro and Jaime Soriano, urging the tribunal to resolve all legal and constitutional issues involving the appointment of next Chief Justice.

Three out of four petitions favor President Arroyo appointing Puno’s replacement despite a constitutional ban on presidential appointments, which starts two months before the May 10 elections and will last until the term ends on June 30.

Only the Soriano petition argued that the SC has the authority to appoint the successor to Puno.

The High Court also ordered the JBC to comment and the Office of the Solicitor General to comment on the petitions until Friday next week.

The JBC started screening candidates to replace Puno but deferred its decision on when to submit the shortlist of nominees to the “proper appointing authority.”

“That will be part of the issue to be resolved by the court – whether that the ban covers appointments in the judiciary especially the position of Chief Justice. If they say it is covered that’s it. If they say it is not covered we will not have problem,” Puno said.

Meanwhile, a disqualification case was filed with the JBC against Carpio, one of the frontrunners for the race to the position of chief justice.

In a letter-complaint, lawyer Joel Obar sought the disqualification of Carpio due to his involvement in the 1989 controversy involving the elections of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP).

Obar said the SC, in a decision in Administrative Matter No. 491 dated October 6, 1989, held that candidates for the IBP presidency, as well as their supporters, have “used government property and resources and even extravagantly spent for solicitation of votes and electioneering, in clear contravention of the mandate of the IBP By-Laws that the body should at all times remain apolitical.”

He said the SC discovered then that delegates from the provinces were given free transportation and that the perpetrators even spent on hotel accommodation for the delegates to ensure that they would vote for their respective patrons. “One of such conspirators who treated the sanctity of such elections with ignominy was no less than, the honorable Antonio Carpio.”

“From the records of the aforementioned case, it was clearly established as a fact that Antonio Carpio spent P20, 000 in hotel accommodation in Philippine Plaza Hotel to billet the candidates. This has been adjudged by the SC as a conscious and deliberate act to influence the outcome of the elections, in clear contravention of the IBP By-Laws,” he added.

Obar introduced himself to the JBC as an “ordinary practicing lawyer in the Province of Negros Oriental and as a former Dean of the College of Law of Foundation University, Dumaguete City.”

He said he is currently a columnist of Negros Chronicle and consultant of the Cordillera Bodong Administration and the Cordillera People’s Liberation Army. (JCV/Sunnex)