A MALACAÑANG official said Tuesday that the intervention of six Nacionalista Party (NP) senatorial bets to High Court’s ruling over chief justice appointment is maybe a mere campaign strategy.

Deputy Presidential Spokesman Gary Olivar said it is a political season, but the NP candidates are free to exercise their rights and seek the reversal of the Supreme Court’s (SC) decision allowing President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to appoint the next chief justice once Court Chief Reynato Puno retires on May 17.

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“They belong to one of the opposition parties, so their action is certainly understandable within the context of campaign politics. But having said that, I think we should grant that they have the right to have different opinions as well and if they feel strong enough about their own opinions, they will go ahead and file such a motion,” he said.

NP senatorial bets Gwendolyn Pimentel, Susan Ople, Liza Maza, Satur Ocampo, Adel Tamano, and Gilbert Remulla filed a motion for reconsideration on Monday seeking a reversal of the High Court’s March 17 ruling.

They said the decision has “serious and adverse ramifications to the country’s governmental institutions, particularly to the judicial system.”

But Olivar said opposition Senator Aquilino Pimentel Jr. is also free to file his own petition or join the NP bets or other groups that would seek a motion for reconsideration or appeal the said ruling.

He said they are leaving it to the SC to handle these petitions.

Olivar also distanced the Palace from proposals to de-list SC justices Antonio Carpio and Conchita Carpio-Morales for both being nominees to replace Puno.

He said that in the end, the President would abide by whatever the High Court decides, adding that should she appoint the next chief justice, she would base it on the credibility and track record of the nominee and not the degree of their closeness to her.

“Iyung degree naman ng closeness of this justice or that justice sa Pangulo that obviously I think is only a side issue, secondary issue. Ang unang-una nating titingnan palagi ay iyung kakayahan ng prospective appointee na manungkulan bilang Chief Justice ng Korte Suprema,” he said.

“Kapag lumabas na ang pangalan noon, the public would be free to judge the wisdom of the President’s decision at that point. Kasi, syempre, isa ‘yun sa mga iisipin ng Pangulo na dapat ay maging katanggap-tanggap at nauuwanaan at suportado ng marami ang kanyang desisyon based on merit,” added Olivar.

Discuss motions for reconsideration

The SC will discuss the motions for reconsideration on its decision allowing President Arroyo to appoint the next chief justice during its summer session in Baguio on April 6.

Court spokesman Jose Midas Marquez on Tuesday said that on April 6, the Court will either deny with finality the motion for reconsideration on its March 17 ruling or direct the parties to comment.

“The parties in the case have 15 days to submit their motion for reconsideration, which will expire on April 2. The motion for reconsideration will be included in the Court’s agenda during its en banc session in Baguio City on April 6,” he added.

Marquez said in case the Court orders the parties to comment, the comments would be included in the SC’s en banc session on April 13, also in Baguio City.

As of Tuesday, none among the original parties in the case have filed their respective motions for reconsideration.

Only the group of the six NP senatorial bets has filed a motion for reconsideration before the High Court.

Marquez also thumbed down the possibility of the Court ruling for the holding of oral arguments on the case, saying the SC only calls for oral arguments in cases where clarificatory questions cannot be answered by the pleadings filed.

“However, if it is a question of law and not a question of fact, there are no oral arguments... At the end of the day, it is the court that says what the law is and what the provisions of the constitution are,” he said.

Marquez said he expects the SC magistrates to render a decision before incumbent Chief Justice Reynato Puno steps down on May 17. This will allow the Judicial Bar and Council (JBC) to continue with the nomination process and comply with the SC ruling, he added.

The summer session will start on April 5, coinciding with the resumption of the meeting of the eight-man panel to discuss the selection of nominees to be included in the shortlist for the position of chief justice.

The shortlist will be submitted to the President on or before May 17, the date of retirement of Puno.

The JBC meeting will also take place on April 5 and 6 in Baguio City, since Puno who is its ex-officio chair, will be there for the SC summer session. (JMR/JCV/Sunnex)