SOME 300 students, civil society, and militant groups joined forces Monday during a “Solidarity March,” urging the High Court to rule against the “midnight appointment” of the next chief justice by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Donning black T-shirts and flashing placards with logo “No to Midnight Appointments,” the protesters started their march at past 11 a.m. along Ma. Orosa St., traversing UN Avenue, Taft Avenue and culminated on Padre Faura Street at the gate of University of the Philippines (UP)-Manila, just beside the Supreme Court (SC) gate, where they held a short programme.

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In a Manifesto of Solidarity submitted to the SC, a copy of which was furnished the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC), the group called on the High Court and the JBC to “defend the independence and integrity of the judiciary against any and all attempts to tarnish its integrity and compromise its independence.”

“We hereby condemn President Arroyo’s shameless abuse of power, blatant violation of the letter and spirit of the Constitution, breach of the public trust and disrespect for the independence and integrity of the judiciary,” the Manifesto stated. “We will not allow the Constitution – the fundamental expression of our sovereign will as a people – to be desecrated, raped and mangled by Arroyo and her allies for their own self-serving ends.”

Chief Justice Reynato Puno, who will vacate his post on May 17, was also called upon to “shake off his indifference and finally exercise his constitutional duty to defend the Fundamental Law, make an honorable stand and uphold the strong moral leadership he has always espoused, at the time when it is needed most.”

“We implore each and every member of the JBC to be steadfast in upholding the Rule of law and to be courageous in resisting the enticements of the incumbent administration. We beg you not to succumb to the pressures of submitting a list of nominees to a President devoid of legal authority to appoint the next chief justice,” the group further said.

They added: “Those who desire to lead the judiciary and become the first among equals to forego their personal ambitions and resist the blandishments of power for the sake of defending the integrity and independence of the judiciary by refusing an unlawful midnight appointment by Arroyo.”

The Solidarity March was organized by the Association of Law Students of the Philippines, and with representations from the groups Akbayan, Bayan Muna, Integrated Bar of the Philippines (Pasay-Paranaque-Las Pinas-Muntinlupa chapter; Makati chapter; Southern Luzon chapter; Eastern Visayas Region chapter); Tau Kappa Phi Fraternity and Portia Sorority of Far Eastern University; The Manila Collegian; Alternative Law Groups; and the Supreme Court Appointments Watch as convenors.

Also in attendance were former Cabinet officials of the Arroyo administration namely Cesar Purisima (Finance), Teresita Deles (peace adviser) and Avelino Cruz (Defense), who returned to private law practice as senior partner of the CVC Law, previously the Villaraza, Cruz, Marcelo, and Angangco law offices, more popularly known as “The Firm,” after his resignation.

In explaining his presence during the gathering, Cruz said he wanted to show support for the cause of upholding the rule of law, regardless of his connection with Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, who is one of the contenders for the position of chief justice, who once worked as managing partner of “The Firm.”

“Ang importante ay sundin natin yung Constitution. Isa lang ang statement ko, I’m here because for the rule of law, we have to uphold the rule of law. It doesn’t matter who is appointed as long as it’s the new president who will appoint the next chief justice because it’s the rule of law,” he told reporters when asked if he thought the judicial process was being marred by political color.

Cruz said it was clear in the Constitution that Arroyo is barred from making any appointments at the onset of the election ban, which will start on March 10 and will last until the end of her term on June 30.

“Maliwanag ang Constitution, hindi na kailangang hintayin ang decision ng Supreme Court. Meron ng unanimous decision ang SC in 1998… Maliwanag na unanimous decision yun, apat na chief justice ang nakapirma dun,” he said, referring to the case of Judges Mateo Valenzuela and Placido Vallarta.

Valenzuela and Vallarta were appointed by then President Fidel Ramos as regional trial court judges in March 2008, but the SC eventually invalidated their appointments since these were within the period covered by the constitutional ban on presidential appointments.

Lawyer Marlon Manuel of the ALG and one of the convenors, clarified that their Solidarity March was not organized by CVC even though some of their lawyers and Cruz were present during the program.

He made the clarification after a group wearing pro-Carpio shirts were seen in the vicinity of the SC.

“We want to clarify that this group is not part of the groups that organized and participated in the solidarity march. Their presence in the vicinity is a clear attempt to muddle the issues and make it appear that the solidarity march was organized for and by Carpio,” he said.

Aside from Carpio, also vying for the chief justice post were Associate Justices Renato Corona, Conchita Carpio-Morales, Arturo Brion, Teresita Leonardo-De Castro and Sandiganbayan presiding justice Edilberto Sandoval.

Among them, Corona was being touted as Palace favorite, while Carpio is being backed by his former partners in “The Firm.”

The JBC meanwhile is set to submit to the President a shortlist of three nominees for the positions of Deputy Ombudsman for Luzon and Special Prosecutor of the Ombudsman.

During Monday’s voting, the JBC recommended for the position of Deputy Ombudsman for Luzon the names of graft investigator Roque Damian Dator, Assistant Ombudsman Mark Jalandoni and retired Court of Appeals Associate Justice Monina Zenarosa.

Dator got seven votes from the eight-man Council; while Jalandoni and Zenarosa both got five votes each.

For Special Prosecutor position, Deputy Special Prosecutor Robert Kallos got eight votes, while DSP Wendell Sulit and Zenarosa, who also vied for both posts, got five votes each.

Both positions hold a fixed seven-year tenure. (JCV/Sunnex)