THE Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) will be the ultimate safeguard in making sure the next Chief Justice will be independent, Malacañang said Saturday.

Presidential spokesman Ricardo Saludo also pooh-poohed a move to have presidential candidates sign a covenant blocking President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s appointment of a new Chief Justice.

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“Mrs. Arroyo’s choice will come from the list of the JBC. So it is up to the JBC to make sure those on its list are independent and respectful of the law and the Constitution,” Saludo said on government-run dzRB radio.

He noted the JBC’s current composition even includes outgoing Chief Justice Reynato Puno, who he described as independent; and Senator Francis Escudero, who is allied with the opposition.

Under the Constitution, the JBC will draw up a list of nominees, with the President selecting from the list to appoint a new Chief Justice.

Questions continued to hound President Arroyo’s appointment of a new Chief Justice after the Supreme Court gave her the green light to do so.

Malacañang’s critics claim Mrs. Arroyo will select a Chief Justice who is loyal to her to protect her from lawsuits once she steps down as president and loses immunity from suit.

“The JBC must make sure the names it will nominate have proven integrity, independence and respect for our laws and the Constitution,” Saludo said.

Saludo also laughed off the move by Sagip Korte Suprema to have presidential bets sign a covenant blocking Mrs. Arroyo’s so-called midnight appointment of a new Chief Justice.

He said the people will not support such a call to defy the high court.

Also, he said the official who refuses to recognize the new Chief Justice may be liable.

“The official who refuses to recognize the Chief Justice will have to answer to the law,” he said.

‘Independent-minded’

Saludo said appointees of Mrs. Arroyo as Chief Justice have shown their independence, including Artemio Panganiban and Puno.

“Many sectors admit Puno and Panganiban are independent even if they were Mrs. Arroyo’s appointees,” he said.

Saludo also laughed off claims by detained senatorial candidate Danilo Lim that Mrs. Arroyo is inviting a military revolt with her efforts to control the High Court.

“There are some people who tried to take power unconstitutionally, but they did not have the people’s support,” he said.

Saludo also said the Palace expects noise surrounding the appointment of a new Chief Justice to persist until Election Day, saying it is a chance for candidates to grab headlines. (JMR/Sunnex)