Has he not heard of the rule of law? — Yasay on Aquino

Jason Pagunsan/ PNS

Bangon Pilipinas Party Vice-Presidentiable and former SEC Chairman Perfecto “Jun” Yasay, Jr., reacts to Liberal Party (LP) standard-bearer Senator Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III’s latest pronouncements threatening the Supreme Court saying that— if elected president—he will not recognize a new chief justice appointed by President Arroyo.

“If elected president, I will not recognize a chief justice appointed by the outgoing president, contrary to the constitutional ban on appointments during the wee hours of her presidency, and contrary to propriety, delicadeza and precedence,” Aquino said in a statement.

Aquino also warned associate justices of the Supreme Court that they would be risking their tenure if they recognize a midnight appointment.

Sent from his BlackBerry® wireless handheld to PNS, Yasay said, “The appointment of a Chief Justice by GMA is an issue that must be resolve within the bounds of law. His stand in this regard, should he become President, indicates his propensity to disregard the law by taking it in his own hands. Has he not heard of the rule of law?”

”Noynoy must work harder to become first in the voters’ ballot aside from the good name he inherited from his parents. The people want to know who he is other than being an Aquino. In our democracy the Presidency or any public office is not a birthright. He must be deserving,” Yasay added.

Meanwhile, the statement got varied reactions from lawyers, critics, allies, and observers.

Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) member Quezon City Rep. Matias Defensor initially could not believe Aquino had made such a threat. The JBC vets the nominees for the justices of the Supreme Court and the Ombudsman.

“It’s dangerous. It’s a threat and a slap to the Supreme Court as an institution. Amazing. Unbelievable,” Defensor told abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak.

Defensor thought Aquino must have been misquoted.

“The entire country can be in disarray. Only the Supreme Court should decide on this. Noynoy must have been misquoted. The statement is irresponsible,” he said in his first text message.

Administration ally House Speaker Prospero Nograles said that even if Aquino becomes President, it is not within his power to decide the controversy.

“That’s a dangerous statement. The final legal arbiter in any legal conflict or issue is still the Supreme Court itself. The chief executive only implements. This will cause chaos when the chief executive refuses to recognize a co-equal body,” Nograles said.

Lawyer Carlos Medina of the election watchdog Legal Network for Truthful Elections (Lente) said Aquino’s threat may cause a “constitutional crisis.”

“Unless nullified by the SC, the appointment will stand. Non-recognition will cause a constitutional crisis,” Medina said.

Defensor caused the controversy when he wrote the JBC in December 2009, reminding it to initiate the process of nominating the successor of Chief Justice Reynato Puno, who will retire on May 17, a week after election day.

Puno’s retirement is within the constitutional ban on midnight appointments. But Defensor argued that the Supreme Court cannot have a “non-existent Chief Justice” in a period so crucial as presidential elections.
Critics of Defensor’s move argued that the associate justices can name an acting chief justice, as they have done in the past.

But Defensor said the acting chief justice may not get everybody’s respect. He said it is even more crucial because of fears that the 2010 elections may fail.

The JBC is yet to take up Defensor’s letter, but his proposal has been the talk of the legal and political community.

In defense of Aquino, LP spokesperson Quezon Rep. Lorenzo Tañada III said there was nothing irresponsible in the statement.

“He was just stating the fact that the Constitution should be followed and there should be no midnight appointments. The appointment of a Chief Justice-in-waiting is a midnight appointment since Chief Justice Puno has not yet retired from the SC,” Tañada said.

“Senator Noynoy recognizes that the SC has its processes once a chief justice retires. Senator Noy respects these processes and this should be followed,” Tañada added.

Nacionalista Party (NP) senatorial candidate Adel Tamano supported Aquino’s call that President Arroyo should not make the appointment. But he did not agree with Aquino’s “disrespectful” attitude towards the Supreme Court.

“As a lawyer and constitutional law professor, I must caution LP standard-bearer Senator Noynoy Aquino that his statement yesterday … is both dangerous and shows a lack of understanding of constitutional processes,” Tamano said.

Tamano agrees with Nograles that the judiciary has the final say on the issue. He also scoffed at Aquino’s threat to remove associate justices who will recognize a chief justice that President Arroyo will appoint.

“A sitting SC justice may only be removed by impeachment, which is a legislative process, and not by executive action. As a lawyer, I am alarmed by Senator Noynoy’s attitude toward the judiciary, which is a co-equal body with the executive branch,” Tamano added.

Colmenares, a lawyer, was also uncomfortable with Aquino’s threat against the Supreme Court even as he supports his call for President Arroyo not to make the appointment. “There is no constitutional mechanism to ‘derecognize’ a chief justice. The best thing to do is to do battle against attempts to appoint the new CJ now as it violates the constitution,” Colmenares said.
A number of congressmen said Aquino’s statement shows disrespect to the highest tribunal and puts pressure on the principle of judicial independence.

Iloilo City Rep. Raul Gonzales, Jr., a known Malacañang ally, said it was too early for Aquino to announce a decision on a Constitutional issue that will require the final say of the Supreme Court.

“Assuming without concluding that the Supreme Court upholds the appointment of Pres. Arroyo of the next Chief Justice, will Sen. Aquino abide by that decision?” asked Gonzales. “Sen. Aquino should not put himself ahead of or on top of the Supreme Court.”

Rep. Janet Garin said Aquino’s statement was “too loaded.”

Baguio City Rep. Mauricio Domogan said he will support any decision of the President regarding the issue. “I hope Noynoy was just speaking on the issue in a very personal context,” he said.