MANILA -- Several members of the Board of Trustees of Ateneo Law Alumni Association called on the Supreme Court (SC) Wednesday to uphold the Constitution by preventing President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo from appointing the next chief justice.

The top judicial post will be vacated by Chief Justice Reynato Puno upon reaching the mandatory retirement age of 70 on May 17.

The Ateneo Law alumni led by its chairman emeritus Crispino Reyes said Section 15, Article 7 of the Constitution expressly prohibits the President from appointing any person, other than temporary appointments, two months before the next presidential elections and until the end of her term.

“Any appointment during this period, including those to the judiciary, would be void ab initio, as ruled decisively in the case of In re Appointments of Valenzuela and Vallarta,” Reyes said.

The manifesto is signed by 10 other members and officers of the alumni association, including retired Justice Ramon Felipe Jr.

Incidentally, Associate Justice Renato Corona, one of those vying for the position of chief justice, is an alumnus of the Ateneo Law School.

Corona was said to be a favorite of the Palace among the other candidates for the post, which included Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, Associate Justices Conchita Carpio-Morales, Arturo Brion, Teresita Leonardo-De Castro and Sandiganbayan Presiding Justice Edilberto Sandoval.

The group said that during the period where there is no appointment, Section 12 of the Judiciary Act of 1948 provides that an acting Chief Justice will preside over the Court and prevent any vacuum in the position.

They further said that during the debate on the issue, those claiming that the President may validly appoint Puno’s successor during the period of the ban have not pointed to any provision of the Constitution, statute or jurisprudence that would justify an exception to the foregoing rule.

“While political or personal reasons to forego the Constitutional ban have been raised and played up, there has been no legal reason set forth to set aside the ban. There being an absence of any legal reason to justify an exception to the Constitutional ban on midnight appointments, the Constitution must prevail and the ban must be respected,” they stated.

“We thus call upon all those involved in the present controversy to end the rancor in the simplest way possible – by adhering to the Constitution and refraining from taking any action that would end in its violation,” the group added.

There are currently five consolidated petitions and four petitions-in-interventions pending before the SC, among them those filed by the Philippine Constitution Association, lawyers Arturo De Castro, Estelito Mendoza and Jaime Soriano, and the taxpayer suit filed by John Peralta.

Central in these petitions are the issues of whether the Judicial and Bar Council may withhold the transmission of shortlist, and in effect has the power to determine whether the incumbent president can appoint Puno’s successor; and, whether the incumbent president can still appoint the next chief justice upon Puno’s retirement despite the election ban.

The eight-man Council, the constitutional body tasked to screen and recommend nominees to vacant judicial posts, has collegially agreed to defer the submission of the shortlist to Arroyo but has already set in motion the nomination process by accepting nominations and publishing the names of candidates.

The JBC has not scheduled yet the date of interviews of Justice Sandoval since he is the only candidate who will undergo public interview, being an “outsider” from the high court. (ECV/Sunnex)