Republic of the Philippines

Supreme Court

Manila

                                                              

EN BANC

 

ARTURO M. DE CASTRO,

                               Petitioner,         

 

                   - versus -

 

JUDICIAL AND BAR COUNCIL (JBC) and PRESIDENT GLORIA MACAPAGAL – ARROYO,

                    Respondents.

x - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - x

JAIME N. SORIANO,

                                Petitioner,         

                

                    - versus -

 

JUDICIAL AND BAR COUNCIL (JBC),

                    Respondent.

x - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - x

PHILIPPINE CONSTITUTION ASSOCIATION (PHILCONSA),

                                Petitioner,         

     

                   - versus -

  

JUDICIAL AND BAR COUNCIL (JBC),

                                Respondent.

x - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - x

IN RE APPLICABILITY OF SECTION 15, ARTICLE VII OF THE CONSTITUTION TO APPOINTMENTS TO THE JUDICIARY,

ESTELITO P. MENDOZA,

                                Petitioner,         

 x - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - x

JOHN G. PERALTA,

                                Petitioner,         

                   - versus -

 

JUDICIAL AND BAR COUNCIL (JBC).

                                Respondent.

x - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -x

PETER IRVING CORVERA;

 

CHRISTIAN ROBERT S. LIM;

 

ALFONSO V. TAN, JR.;

 

NATIONAL UNION OF PEOPLE’S LAWYERS;

 

MARLOU B. UBANO;

 

INTEGRATED BAR OF THE PHILIPPINES-DAVAO DEL SUR CHAPTER, represented by its Immediate Past President, ATTY. ISRAELITO P. TORREON, and the latter in his own personal capacity as a MEMBER of the PHILIPPINE BAR;

 

MITCHELL JOHN L. BOISER;

 

BAGONG ALYANSANG BAYAN (BAYAN) CHAIRMAN DR. CAROLINA P. ARAULLO; BAYAN SECRETARY GENERAL RENATO M. REYES, JR.; CONFEDERATION FOR UNITY, RECOGNITION AND ADVANCE-MENT OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES (COURAGE) CHAIRMAN FERDINAND GAITE; KALIPUNAN NG DAMAYANG MAHIHIRAP (KADAMAY) SECRETARY GENERAL GLORIA ARELLANO; ALYANSA NG NAGKAKAISANG KABATAAN NG SAMBAYANAN PARA SA KAUNLARAN (ANAKBAYAN) CHAIRMAN KEN LEONARD RAMOS; TAYO ANG PAG-ASA CONVENOR ALVIN PETERS; LEAGUE OF FILIPINO STUDENTS (LFS) CHAIRMAN JAMES MARK TERRY LACUANAN RIDON; NATIONAL UNION OF STUDENTS OF THE PHILIPPINES (NUSP) CHAIRMAN EINSTEIN RECEDES; COLLEGE EDITORS GUILD OF THE PHILIPPINES (CEGP) CHAIRMAN VIJAE ALQUISOLA; and STUDENT CHRISTIAN MOVEMENT OF THE PHILIPPINES (SCMP) CHAIRMAN MA. CRISTINA ANGELA GUEVARRA;

 

WALDEN F. BELLO and LORETTA ANN P. ROSALES;

 

WOMEN TRIAL LAWYERS ORGANIZATION OF THE PHILIPPINES, represented by YOLANDA QUISUMBING-

JAVELLANA; BELLEZA ALOJADO DEMAISIP; TERESITA GANDIONCO-OLEDAN; MA. VERENA KASILAG-VILLANUEVA; MARILYN STA. ROMANA; LEONILA DE JESUS; and GUINEVERE DE LEON.

                            Intervenors.

x - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -x

ATTY. AMADOR  Z. TOLENTINO, JR., (IBP

Governor–Southern Luzon), and ATTY. ROLAND B. INTING

(IBP Governor–Eastern Visayas),

                                Petitioners,

 

                   - versus -

 

 

JUDICIAL AND BAR COUNCIL (JBC),

                                 Respondent.

x - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - x

PHILIPPINE BAR ASSOCIATION, INC.,

                                 Petitioner,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                     - versus -                   

 

 

 

 

 

JUDICIAL AND BAR COUNCIL and HER EXCELLENCY GLORIA MACAPAGAL-ARROYO,

                                Respondents.

G. R. No. 191002

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

G.R. No. 191032

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

G.R. No. 191057

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A.M. No. 10-2-5-SC       

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

G.R. No. 191149

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

G.R. No. 191342

     

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

G.R. No. 191420

 

 Present:

 

PUNO, C.J.,

CARPIO,

CORONA,

CARPIO MORALES,

VELASCO, JR.,

NACHURA,

LEONARDO-DE CASTRO,

BRION,

PERALTA,

BERSAMIN,

DEL CASTILLO,

ABAD,

VILLARAMA, JR.,

PEREZ, and

MENDOZA, JJ.

 

Promulgated:

March 17, 2010

x-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------x

 

D E C I S I O N

 

BERSAMIN, J.:

 

          The compulsory retirement of Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno by May 17, 2010 occurs just days after the coming presidential elections on May 10, 2010. Even before the event actually happens, it is giving rise to many legal dilemmas. May the incumbent President appoint his successor, considering that Section 15, Article VII (Executive Department) of the Constitution prohibits the President or Acting President from making appointments within two months immediately before the next presidential elections and up to the end of his term, except temporary appointments to executive positions when continued vacancies therein will prejudice public service or endanger public safety? What is the relevance of Section 4 (1), Article VIII (Judicial Department) of the Constitution, which provides that any vacancy in the Supreme Court shall be filled within 90 days from the occurrence thereof, to the matter of the appointment of his successor? May the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) resume the process of screening the candidates nominated or being considered to succeed Chief Justice Puno, and submit the list of nominees to the incumbent President even during the period of the prohibition under Section 15, Article VII? Does mandamus lie to compel the submission of the shortlist of nominees by the JBC?

 

Precís of the Consolidated Cases

 

Petitioners Arturo M. De Castro and John G. Peralta respectively commenced G.R. No. 191002[1] and G.R. No. 191149[2] as special civil actions for certiorari and mandamus, praying that the JBC be compelled to submit to the incumbent President the list of at least three nominees for the position of the next Chief Justice.

 

In G.R. No. 191032,[3] Jaime N. Soriano, via his petition for prohibition, proposes to prevent the JBC from conducting its search, selection and nomination proceedings for the position of Chief Justice.

 

In G.R. No. 191057, a special civil action for mandamus,[4]  the Philippine Constitution Association (PHILCONSA) wants the JBC to submit its list of nominees for the position of Chief Justice to be vacated by Chief Justice Puno upon his retirement on May 17, 2010, because the incumbent President is not covered by the prohibition that applies only to appointments in the Executive Department.       

 

          In Administrative Matter No. 10-2-5-SC,[5] petitioner Estelito M. Mendoza, a former Solicitor General, seeks a ruling from the Court for the guidance of the JBC on whether Section 15, Article VII applies to appointments to the Judiciary.

 

          In G.R. No. 191342,[6] which the Court consolidated on March 9, 2010 with the petitions earlier filed, petitioners Amador Z. Tolentino, Jr. and Roland B. Inting, Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) Governors for Southern Luzon and Eastern Visayas, respectively, want to enjoin and restrain the JBC from submitting a list of nominees for the position of Chief Justice to the President for appointment during the period provided for in Section 15, Article VII.

 

          All the petitions now before the Court pose as the principal legal question whether the incumbent President can appoint the successor of Chief Justice Puno upon his retirement. That question is undoubtedly impressed with transcendental importance to the Nation, because the appointment of the Chief Justice is any President’s most important appointment.

 

A precedent frequently cited is In Re Appointments Dated March 30, 1998 of Hon. Mateo A. Valenzuela and Hon. Placido B. Vallarta as Judges of the Regional Trial Court of Branch 62, Bago City and of Branch 24, Cabanatuan City, respectively (Valenzuela),[7] by which the Court held that Section 15, Article VII prohibited the exercise by the President of the power to appoint to judicial positions during the period therein fixed.

 

In G.R. No. 191002, De Castro submits that the conflicting opinions on the issue expressed by legal luminaries one side holds that the incumbent President is prohibited from making appointments within two months immediately before the coming presidential elections and until the end of her term of office as President on June 30, 2010, while the other insists that the prohibition applies only to appointments to executive positions that may influence the election and, anyway, paramount national interest justifies the appointment of a Chief Justice during the election ban – has impelled the JBC to defer the decision to whom to send its list of at least three nominees, whether to the incumbent President or to her successor.[8] He opines that the JBC is thereby arrogating unto itself “the judicial function that is not conferred upon it by the Constitution,” which has limited it to the task of recommending appointees to the Judiciary, but has not empowered it to “finally resolve constitutional questions, which is the power vested only in the Supreme Court under the Constitution.” As such, he contends that the JBC acted with grave abuse of discretion in deferring the submission of the list of nominees to the President; and that a “final and definitive resolution of the constitutional questions raised above would diffuse (sic) the tension in the legal community that would go a long way to keep and maintain stability in the judiciary and the political system.”[9]

 

In G.R. No. 191032, Soriano offers the view that the JBC committed a grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of its jurisdiction when it resolved unanimously on January 18, 2010 to open the search, nomination, and selection process for the position of Chief Justice to succeed Chief Justice Puno, because the appointing authority for the position of Chief Justice is the Supreme Court itself, the President’s authority being limited to the appointment of the Members of the Supreme Court. Hence, the JBC should not intervene in the process, unless a nominee is not yet a Member of the Supreme Court.[10]

 

 

For its part, PHILCONSA observes in its petition in G.R. No. 191057 that “unorthodox and exceptional circumstances spawned by the discordant interpretations, due perhaps to a perfunctory understanding, of Sec. 15, Art. VII in relation to Secs. 4(1), 8(5) and 9, Art. VIII of the Constitution” have bred “a frenzied inflammatory legal debate on the constitutional provisions mentioned that has divided the bench and the bar and the general public as well, because of its dimensional impact to the nation and the people,” thereby fashioning “transcendental questions or issues affecting the JBC’s proper exercise of its “principal function of recommending appointees to the Judiciary” by submitting only to the President (not to the next President) “a list of at least three nominees prepared by the Judicial and Bar Council for every vacancy” from which the members of the Supreme Court and judges of the lower courts may be appointed.”[11] PHILCONSA further believes and submits that now is the time to revisit and review Valenzuela, the “strange and exotic Decision of the Court en banc.”[12]

 

Peralta states in his petition in G.R. No. 191149 that mandamus can compel the JBC “to immediately transmit to the President, within a reasonable time, its nomination list for the position of chief justice upon the mandatory retirement of Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno, in compliance with its mandated duty under the Constitution” in the event that the Court resolves that the President can appoint a Chief Justice even during the election ban under Section 15, Article VII of the Constitution.[13]

 

The petitioners in G.R. No. 191342 insist that there is an actual controversy, considering that the “JBC has initiated the process of receiving applications for the position of Chief Justice and has in fact begun the evaluation process for the applications to the position,” and “is perilously near completing the nomination process and coming up with a list of nominees for submission to the President, entering into the period of the ban on midnight appointments on March 10, 2010,” which “only highlights the pressing and compelling need for a writ of prohibition to enjoin such alleged ministerial function of submitting the list, especially if it will be cone within the period of the ban on midnight appointments.”[14]

         

Antecedents

 

These cases trace their genesis to the controversy that has arisen from the forthcoming compulsory retirement of Chief Justice Puno on May 17, 2010, or seven days after the presidential election. Under Section 4(1), in relation to Section 9, Article VIII, that “vacancy shall be filled within ninety days from the occurrence thereof” from a “list of at least three nominees prepared by the Judicial and Bar Council for every vacancy.”

 

On December 22, 2009, Congressman Matias V. Defensor, an ex officio member of the JBC, addressed a letter to the JBC, requesting that the process for nominations to the office of the Chief Justice be commenced immediately.

 

In its January 18, 2010 meeting en banc, therefore, the JBC passed a resolution,[15] which reads:

 

The JBC, in its en banc meeting of January 18, 2010, unanimously agreed to start the process of filling up the position of Chief Justice to be vacated on May 17, 2010 upon the retirement of the incumbent Chief Justice Honorable Reynato S. Puno.

 

It will publish the opening of the position for applications or recommendations; deliberate on the list of candidates; publish the names of candidates; accept comments on or opposition to the applications; conduct public interviews of candidates; and prepare the shortlist of candidates.

 

As to the time to submit this shortlist to the proper appointing authority, in the light of the Constitution, existing laws and jurisprudence, the JBC welcomes and will consider all views on the matter.

 

18 January 2010.

 

 

 

                                                                     (sgd.)

                                                MA. LUISA D. VILLARAMA

                                                Clerk of Court &

                                                Ex-Officio Secretary

                                                Judicial and Bar Council

 

 

          As a result, the JBC opened the position of Chief Justice for application or recommendation, and published for that purpose its announcement dated January 20, 2010,[16] viz:

 

 

The Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) announces the opening for application or recommendation, of the position of CHIEF JUSTICE OF THE SUPREME COURT, which will be vacated on 17 May 2010 upon the retirement of the incumbent Chief Justice, HON. REYNATO S. PUNO.

 

Applications or recommendations for this position must be submitted not later than 4 February 2010 (Thursday) to the JBC Secretariat xxx:

         

The announcement was published on January 20, 2010 in the Philippine Daily Inquirer and The Philippine Star.[17]

 

          Conformably with its existing practice, the JBC “automatically considered” for the position of Chief Justice the five most senior of the Associate Justices of the Court, namely: Associate Justice Antonio T. Carpio; Associate Justice Renato C. Corona; Associate Justice Conchita Carpio Morales; Associate Justice Presbitero J. Velasco, Jr.; and Associate Justice Antonio Eduardo B. Nachura. However, the last two declined their nomination through letters dated January 18, 2010 and January 25, 2010, respectively.[18]

 

          Others either applied or were nominated. Victor Fernandez, the retired Deputy Ombudsman for Luzon, applied, but later formally withdrew his name from consideration through his letter dated February 8, 2010. Candidates who accepted their nominations without conditions were Associate Justice Renato C. Corona; Associate Justice Teresita J. Leonardo-De Castro; Associate Justice Arturo D. Brion; and Associate Justice Edilberto G. Sandoval (Sandiganbayan). Candidates who accepted their nominations with conditions were Associate Justice Antonio T. Carpio and Associate Justice Conchita Carpio Morales.[19]  Declining their nominations were Atty. Henry Villarica (via telephone conversation with the Executive Officer of the JBC on February 5, 2010) and Atty. Gregorio M. Batiller, Jr. (via telephone conversation with the Executive Officer of the JBC on February 8, 2010).[20]

 

          The JBC excluded from consideration former RTC Judge Florentino Floro (for failure to meet the standards set by the JBC rules); and Special Prosecutor Dennis Villa-Ignacio of the Office of the Ombudsman (due to cases pending in the Office of the Ombudsman).[21]

 

          In its meeting of February 8, 2010, the JBC resolved to proceed to the next step of announcing the names of the following candidates to invite the public to file their sworn complaint, written report, or opposition, if any, not later than February 22, 2010, to wit: Associate Justice Carpio, Associate Justice Corona, Associate Justice Carpio Morales, Associate Justice Leonardo-De Castro, Associate Justice Brion, and Associate Justice Sandoval. The announcement came out in the Philippine Daily Inquirer and The Philippine Star issues of February 13, 2010.[22]

 

Issues

 

Although it has already begun the process for the filling of the position of Chief Justice Puno in accordance with its rules, the JBC is not yet decided on when to submit to the President its list of nominees for the position due to the controversy now before us being yet unresolved. In the meanwhile, time is marching in quick step towards May 17, 2010 when the vacancy occurs upon the retirement of Chief Justice Puno.

 

The actions of the JBC have sparked a vigorous debate not only among legal luminaries, but also among non-legal quarters, and brought out highly disparate opinions on whether the incumbent President can appoint the next Chief Justice or not. Petitioner Mendoza notes that in Valenzuela, which involved the appointments of two judges of the Regional Trial Court, the Court addressed this issue now before us as an administrative matter “to avoid any possible polemics concerning the matter,” but he opines that the polemics leading to Valenzuela “would be miniscule [sic] compared to the “polemics” that have now erupted in regard to the current controversy,” and that unless “put to a halt, and this may only be achieved by a ruling from the Court, the integrity of the process and the credibility of whoever is appointed to the position of Chief Justice, may irreparably be impaired.”[23]

 

          Accordingly, we reframe the issues as submitted by each petitioner in the order of the chronological filing of their petitions.

 

 

 

G.R. No. 191002

 

 

a.   Does the JBC have the power and authority to resolve the constitutional question of whether the incumbent President can appoint a Chief Justice during the election ban period?

 

b.   Does the incumbent President have the power and authority to appoint during the election ban the successor of Chief Justice Puno when he vacates the position of Chief Justice on his retirement on May 17, 2010?

 

 

G.R. No. 191032

 

a.  Is the power to appoint the Chief Justice vested in the Supreme Court en banc?

 

G.R. No. 191057

 

a.   Is the constitutional prohibition against appointment under Section 15, Article VII of the Constitution applicable only to positions in the Executive Department?

 

b.  Assuming that the prohibition under Section 15, Article VII of the Constitution also applies to members of the Judiciary, may such appointments be excepted because they are impressed with public interest or are demanded by the exigencies of public service, thereby justifying these appointments during the period of prohibition?

 

c. Does the JBC have the authority to decide whether or not to include and submit the names of nominees who manifested interest to be nominated for the position of Chief Justice on the understanding that his/her nomination will be submitted to the next President in view of the prohibition against presidential appointments from March 11, 2010 until June 30, 2010?

 

A. M. No. 10-2-5-SC

 

a.  Does Section 15, Article VII of the Constitution apply to appointments to positions in the Judiciary under Section 9, Article VIII of the Constitution?

 

b. May President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo make appointments to the Judiciary after March 10, 2010, including that for the position of Chief Justice after Chief Justice Puno retires on May 17, 2010?

 

G.R. No. 191149

 

a.  Does the JBC have the discretion to withhold the submission of the short list to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo?

 

G.R. No. 191342

 

a.     Does the JBC have the authority to submit the list of nominees to the incumbent President without committing a grave violation of the Constitution and jurisprudence prohibiting the incumbent President from making midnight appointments two months immediately preceding the next presidential elections until the end of her term?

 

b.     Is any act performed by the JBC, including the vetting of the candidates for the position of Chief Justice, constitutionally invalid in view of the JBC’s illegal composition allowing each member from the Senate and the House of Representatives to have one vote each?

 

 

On February 16, 2010, the Court directed the JBC and the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) to comment on the consolidated petitions, except that filed in G.R. No. 191342.

 

On February 26, 2010, the JBC submitted its comment, reporting therein that the next stage of the process for the selection of the nominees for the position of Chief Justice would be the public interview of the candidates and the preparation of the short list of candidates, “including the interview of the constitutional experts, as may be needed.”[24] It stated:[25]

 

 

Likewise, the JBC has yet to take a position on when to submit the shortlist to the proper appointing authority, in light of Section 4 (1), Article VIII of the Constitution, which provides that vacancy in the Supreme Court shall be filled within ninety (90) days from the occurrence thereof, Section 15, Article VII of the Constitution concerning the ban on Presidential appointments “two (2) months immediately before the next presidential elections and up to the end of his term” and Section 261 (g), Article XXII of the Omnibus Election Code of the Philippines.

 

12. Since the Honorable Supreme Court is the final interpreter of the Constitution, the JBC will be guided by its decision in these consolidated Petitions and Administrative Matter.

 

 

On February 26, 2010, the OSG also submitted its comment, essentially stating that the incumbent President can appoint the successor of Chief Justice Puno upon his retirement by May 17, 2010.

 

The OSG insists that: (a) a writ of prohibition cannot issue to prevent the JBC from performing its principal function under the Constitution to recommend appointees in the Judiciary; (b) the JBC’s function to recommend is a “continuing process,” which does not begin with each vacancy or end with each nomination, because the goal is “to submit the list of nominees to Malacańang on the very day the vacancy arises”;[26] the JBC was thus acting within its jurisdiction when it commenced and set in motion the process of selecting the nominees to be submitted to the President for the position of Chief Justice to be vacated by Chief Justice Puno;[27] (c) petitioner Soriano’s theory that it is the Supreme Court, not the President, who has the power to appoint the Chief Justice, is incorrect, and proceeds from his misinterpretation of the phrase “members of the Supreme Court” found in Section 9, Article VIII of the Constitution as referring only to the Associate Justices, to the exclusion of the Chief Justice; [28] (d) a writ of mandamus can issue to compel the JBC to submit the list of nominees to the President, considering that its duty to prepare the list of at least three nominees is unqualified, and the submission of the list is a ministerial act that the JBC is mandated to perform under the Constitution; as such, the JBC, the nature of whose principal function is executive, is not vested with the power to resolve who has the authority to appoint the next Chief Justice and, therefore, has no discretion to withhold the list from the President; [29] and (e) a writ of mandamus cannot issue to compel the JBC to include or exclude particular candidates as nominees, considering that there is no imperative duty on its part to include in or exclude from the list particular individuals, but, on the contrary, the JBC’s determination of who it nominates to the President is an exercise of a discretionary duty.[30]

 

The OSG contends that the incumbent President may appoint the next Chief Justice, because the prohibition under Section 15, Article VII of the Constitution does not apply to appointments in the Supreme Court. It argues that any vacancy in the Supreme Court must be filled within 90 days from its occurrence, pursuant to Section 4(1), Article VIII of the Constitution; [31] that in their deliberations on the mandatory period for the appointment of Supreme Court Justices, the framers neither mentioned nor referred to the ban against midnight appointments, or its effects on such period, or vice versa;[32] that had the framers intended the prohibition to apply to Supreme Court appointments, they could have easily expressly stated so in the Constitution, which explains why the prohibition found in Article VII (Executive Department) was not written in Article VIII (Judicial Department); and that the framers also incorporated in Article VIII ample restrictions or limitations on the President’s power to appoint members of the Supreme Court to ensure its independence from “political vicissitudes” and its “insulation from political pressures,”[33] such as stringent qualifications for the positions, the establishment of the JBC, the specified period within which the President shall appoint a Supreme Court Justice.

 

The OSG posits that although Valenzuela involved the appointment of RTC Judges, the situation now refers to the appointment of the next Chief Justice to which the prohibition does not apply; that, at any rate, Valenzuela even recognized that there might be “the imperative need for an appointment during the period of the ban,” like when the membership of the Supreme Court should be “so reduced that it will have no quorum, or should the voting on a particular important question requiring expeditious resolution be divided”;[34] and that Valenzuela also recognized that the filling of vacancies in the Judiciary is undoubtedly in the public interest, most especially if there is any compelling reason to justify the making of the appointments during the period of the prohibition.[35]

 

Lastly, the OSG urges that there are now undeniably compelling reasons for the incumbent President to appoint the next Chief Justice, to wit: (a) a deluge of cases involving sensitive political issues is “quite expected”;[36] (b) the Court acts as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET), which, sitting en banc, is the sole judge of all contests relating to the election, returns, and qualifications of the President and Vice President and, as such, has “the power to correct manifest errors on the statement of votes (SOV) and certificates of canvass (COC)”;[37] (c) if history has shown that during ordinary times the Chief Justice was appointed immediately upon the occurrence of the vacancy, from the time of the effectivity of the Constitution, there is now even more reason to appoint the next Chief Justice immediately upon the retirement of Chief Justice Puno;[38] and (d) should the next Chief Justice come from among the incumbent Associate Justices of the Supreme Court, thereby causing a vacancy, it also becomes incumbent upon the JBC to start the selection process for the filling up of the vacancy in accordance with the constitutional mandate.[39]

 

On March 9, 2010, the Court admitted the following comments/oppositions-in-intervention, to wit:

 

(a) The opposition-in-intervention dated February 22, 2010 of Atty. Peter Irving Corvera (Corvera);[40]

 

(b) The opposition-in-intervention dated February 22, 2010 of Atty. Christian Robert S. Lim (Lim);

 

(c) The opposition-in-intervention dated February 23, 2010 of Atty. Alfonso V. Tan, Jr. (Tan);

 

(d) The comment/opposition-in-intervention dated March 1, 2010 of the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL);

 

(e) The opposition-in-intervention dated February 25, 2010 of Atty. Marlou B. Ubano (Ubano);

 

(f) The opposition-in-intervention dated February 25, 2010 of Integrated Bar of the Philippines-Davao del Sur Chapter and its Immediate Past President, Atty. Israelito P. Torreon (IBP- Davao del Sur);

 

(g) The opposition-in-intervention dated February 26, 2010 of Atty. Mitchell John L. Boiser (Boiser);

 

(h)The consolidated comment/opposition-in-intervention dated February 26, 2010 of BAYAN Chairman Dr. Carolina P. Araullo; BAYAN Secretary General Renato M. Reyes, Jr.; Confederation for Unity, Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees (COURAGE) Chairman Ferdinand Gaite; Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (KADAMAY) Secretary General Gloria Arellano; Alyansa ng Nagkakaisang Kabataan ng Samayanan Para sa Kaunlaran (ANAKBAYAN) Chairman Ken Leonard Ramos; Tayo ang Pag-asa Convenor Alvin Peters; League of Filipino Students (LFS) Chairman James Mark Terry Lacuanan Ridon; National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP) Chairman Einstein Recedes, College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP) Chairman Vijae Alquisola; and Student Christian Movement of the Philippines (SCMP) Chairman Ma. Cristina Angela Guevarra (BAYAN et al.);

 

(i)    The opposition-in-intervention dated March 3, 2010 of Walden F. Bello and Loretta Ann P. Rosales (Bello et al.); and

 

(j) The consolidated comment/opposition-in-intervention dated March 4, 2010 of the Women Trial Lawyers Organization of the Philippines (WTLOP), represented by Atty. Yolanda Quisumbing-Javellana; Atty. Belleza Alojado Demaisip; Atty. Teresita Gandionco-Oledan; Atty. Ma. Verena Kasilag-Villanueva; Atty. Marilyn Sta. Romana; Atty. Leonila de Jesus; and Atty. Guinevere de Leon (WTLOP).

 

 

          Intervenors Tan, WTLOP, BAYAN et al., Corvera, IBP Davao del Sur, and NUPL take the position that De Castro’s petition was bereft of any basis, because under Section 15, Article VII, the outgoing President is constitutionally banned from making any appointments from March 10, 2010 until June 30, 2010, including the appointment of the successor of Chief Justice Puno. Hence, mandamus does not lie to compel the JBC to submit the list of nominees to the outgoing President if the constitutional prohibition is already in effect. Tan adds that the prohibition against midnight appointments was applied by the Court to the appointments to the Judiciary made by then President Ramos, with the Court holding that the duty of the President to fill the vacancies within 90 days from occurrence of the vacancies (for the Supreme Court) or from the submission of the list (for all other courts) was not an excuse to violate the constitutional prohibition.

 

Intervenors Tan, Ubano, Boiser, Corvera, NULP, BAYAN et al., and Bello et al. oppose the insistence that Valenzuela recognizes the possibility that the President may appoint the next Chief Justice if exigent circumstances warrant the appointment, because that recognition is obiter dictum; and aver that the absence of a Chief Justice or even an Associate Justice does not cause epic damage or absolute disruption or paralysis in the operations of the Judiciary. They insist that even without the successor of Chief Justice Puno being appointed by the incumbent President, the Court is allowed to sit and adjudge en banc or in divisions of three, five or seven members at its discretion; that a full membership of the Court is not necessary; that petitioner De Castro’s fears are unfounded and baseless, being based on a mere possibility, the occurrence of which is entirely unsure; that it is not in the national interest to have a Chief Justice whose appointment is unconstitutional and, therefore, void; and that such a situation will create a crisis in the judicial system and will worsen an already vulnerable political situation.

 

ice is imperative for the stability of the judicial system and the political situation in the country when the election-related questions reach the Court as false, because there is an existing law on filling the void brought about by a vacancy in the office of Chief Justice; that the law is Section 12 of the Judiciary Act of 1948, which has not been repealed by Batas Pambansa Blg. 129 or any other law; that a temporary or an acting Chief Justice is not anathema to judicial independence; that the designation of an acting Chief Justice is not only provided for by law, but is also dictated by practical necessity; that the practice was intended to be enshrined in the 1987 Constitution, but the Commissioners decided not to write it in the Constitution on account of the settled practice; that the practice was followed under the 1987 Constitution, when, in 1992, at the end of the term of Chief Justice Marcelo B. Fernan, Associate Justice Andres Narvasa assumed the position as Acting Chief Justice prior to his official appointment as Chief Justice; that said filling up of a vacancy in the office of the Chief Justice was acknowledged and even used by analogy in the case of the vacancy of the Chairman of the Commission on Elections, per Brillantes v. Yorac, 192 SCRA 358; and that the history of the Supreme Court has shown that this rule of succession has been repeatedly observed and has become a part of its tradition.

 

Intervenors Ubano, Boiser, NUPL, Corvera, and Lim maintain that the Omnibus Election Code penalizes as an election offense the act of any government official who appoints, promotes, or gives any increase in salary or remuneration or privilege to any government official or employee during the period of 45 days before a regular election; that the provision covers all appointing heads, officials, and officers of a government office, agency or instrumentality, including the President; that for the incumbent President to appoint the next Chief Justice upon the retirement of Chief Justice Puno, or during the period of the ban under the Omnibus Election Code, constitutes an election offense; that even an appointment of the next Chief Justice prior to the election ban is fundamentally invalid and without effect because there can be no appointment until a vacancy occurs; and that the vacancy for the position can occur only by May 17, 2010. 

 

Intervenor Boiser adds that De Castro’s prayer to compel the submission of nominees by the JBC to the incumbent President is off-tangent because the position of Chief Justice is still not vacant; that to speak of a list, much more a submission of such list, before a vacancy occurs is glaringly premature; that the proposed advance appointment by the incumbent President of the next Chief Justice will be unconstitutional; and that no list of nominees can be submitted by the JBC if there is no vacancy.

 

          All the intervenors-oppositors submit that Section 15, Article VII makes no distinction between the kinds of appointments made by the President; and that the Court, in Valenzuela, ruled that the appointments by the President of the two judges during the prohibition period were void.

 

Intervenor WTLOP posits that Section 15, Article VII of the 1987 Constitution does not apply only to the appointments in the Executive Department, but also to judicial appointments, contrary to the submission of PHILCONSA; that Section 15 does not distinguish; and that Valenzuela already interpreted the prohibition as applicable to judicial appointments.

         

Intervenor WTLOP further posits that petitioner Soriano’s contention that the power to appoint the Chief Justice is vested, not in the President, but in the Supreme Court, is utterly baseless, because the Chief Justice is also a Member of the Supreme Court as contemplated under Section 9, Article VIII; and that, at any rate, the term “members” was interpreted in Vargas v. Rillaroza (G.R. No. L-1612, February 26, 1948) to refer to the Chief Justice and the Associate Justices of the Supreme Court; that PHILCONSA’s prayer that the Court pass a resolution declaring that persons who manifest their interest as nominees, but with conditions, shall not be considered nominees by the JBC is diametrically opposed to the arguments in the body of its petition; that such glaring inconsistency between the allegations in the body and the relief prayed for highlights the lack of merit of PHILCONSA’s petition; that the role of the JBC cannot be separated from the constitutional prohibition on the President; and that the Court must direct the JBC to follow the rule of law, that is, to submit the list of nominees only to the next duly elected President after the period of the constitutional ban against midnight appointments has expired.

 

Oppositor IBP Davao del Sur opines that the JBC because it is neither a judicial nor a quasi-judicial body has no duty under the Constitution to resolve the question of whether the incumbent President can appoint a Chief Justice during the period of prohibition; that even if the JBC has already come up with a short list, it still has to bow to the strict limitations under Section 15, Article VII; that should the JBC defer submission of the list, it is not arrogating unto itself a judicial function, but simply respecting the clear mandate of the Constitution; and that the application of the general rule in Section 15, Article VII to the Judiciary does not violate the principle of separation of powers, because said provision is an exception.

 

Oppositors NUPL, Corvera, Lim and BAYAN et al.  state that the JBC’s act of nominating appointees to the Supreme Court is purely ministerial and does not involve the exercise of judgment; that there can be no default on the part of the JBC in submitting the list of nominees to the President, considering that the call for applications only begins from the occurrence of the vacancy in the Supreme Court; and that the commencement of the process of screening of applicants to fill the vacancy in the office of the Chief Justice only begins from the retirement on May 17, 2010, for, prior to this date, there is no definite legal basis for any party to claim that the submission or non-submission of the list of nominees to the President by the JBC is a matter of right under law.

 

The main question presented in all the filings herein because it involves two seemingly conflicting provisions of the Constitution imperatively demands the attention and resolution of this Court, the only authority that can resolve the question definitively and finally. The imperative demand rests on the ever-present need, first, to safeguard the independence, reputation, and integrity of the entire Judiciary, particularly this Court, an institution that has been unnecessarily dragged into the harsh polemics brought on by the controversy; second, to settle once and for all the doubt about an outgoing President’s power to appoint to the Judiciary within the long period starting two months before the presidential elections until the end of the presidential term; and third, to set a definite guideline for the JBC to follow in the discharge of its primary office of screening and nominating qualified persons for appointment to the Judiciary.

 

Thus, we resolve.

 

Ruling of the Court

 

Locus Standi of Petitioners

 

The preliminary issue to be settled is whether or not the petitioners have locus standi.

 

Black defines locus standi as “a right of appearance in a court of justice on a given question.”[41] In public or constitutional litigations, the Court is often burdened with the determination of the locus standi of the petitioners due to the ever-present need to regulate the invocation of the intervention of the Court to correct any official action or policy in order to avoid obstructing the efficient functioning of public officials and offices involved in public service. It is required, therefore, that the petitioner must have a personal stake in the outcome of the controversy, for, as indicated in Agan, Jr. v. Philippine International Air Terminals Co., Inc.:[42]

 

The question on legal standing is whether such parties have “alleged such a personal stake in the outcome of the controversy as to assure that concrete adverseness which sharpens the presentation of issues upon which the court so largely depends for illumination of difficult constitutional questions.”[43] Accordingly, it has been held that the interest of a person assailing the constitutionality of a statute must be direct and personal. He must be able to show, not only that the law or any government act is invalid, but also that he sustained or is in imminent danger of sustaining some direct injury as a result of its enforcement, and not merely that he suffers thereby in some indefinite way. It must appear that the person complaining has been or is about to be denied some right or privilege to which he is lawfully entitled or that he is about to be subjected to some burdens or penalties by reason of the statute or act complained of.[44]

 

It is true that as early as in 1937, in People v. Vera,[45] the Court adopted the direct injury test for determining whether a petitioner in a public action had locus standi. There, the Court held that the person who would assail the validity of a statute must have “a personal and substantial interest in the case such that he has sustained, or will sustain direct injury as a result.” Vera was followed in Custodio v. President of the Senate,[46] Manila Race Horse Trainers’ Association v. De la Fuente,[47] Anti-Chinese League of the Philippines v. Felix,[48] and Pascual v. Secretary of Public Works.[49]

 

Yet, the Court has also held that the requirement of locus standi, being a mere procedural technicality, can be waived by the Court in the exercise of its discretion. For instance, in 1949, in Araneta v. Dinglasan,[50] the Court liberalized the approach when the cases had “transcendental importance.” Some notable controversies whose petitioners did not pass the direct injury test were allowed to be treated in the same way as in Araneta v. Dinglasan.[51] 

 

In the 1975 decision in Aquino v. Commission on Elections,[52] this Court decided to resolve the issues raised by the petition due to their “far-reaching implications,” even if the petitioner had no personality to file the suit. The liberal approach of Aquino v. Commission on Elections has been adopted in several  notable  cases,  permitting  ordinary  citizens,  legislators,  and  civic

organizations to bring their suits involving the constitutionality or validity of laws, regulations, and rulings.[53]

 

However, the assertion of a public right as a predicate for challenging a supposedly illegal or unconstitutional executive or legislative action rests on the theory that the petitioner represents the public in general. Although such petitioner may not be as adversely affected by the action complained against as are others, it is enough that he sufficiently demonstrates in his petition that he is entitled to protection or relief from the Court in the vindication of a public right.

 

Quite often, as here, the petitioner in a public action sues as a citizen or taxpayer to gain locus standi. That is not surprising, for even if the issue may appear to concern only the public in general, such capacities nonetheless equip the petitioner with adequate interest to sue. In David v. Macapagal-Arroyo,[54] the Court aptly explains why:

 

Case law in most jurisdictions now allows both “citizen” and “taxpayer” standing in public actions. The distinction was first laid down in Beauchamp v. Silk,[55] where it was held that the plaintiff in a taxpayer’s suit is in a different category from the plaintiff in a citizen’s suit. In the former, the plaintiff is affected by the expenditure of public funds, while in the latter, he is but the mere instrument of the public concern. As held by the New York Supreme Court in People ex rel Case v. Collins:[56]In matter of mere public right, however…the people are the real parties…It is at least the right, if not the duty, of every citizen to interfere and see that a public offence be properly pursued and punished, and that a public grievance be remedied.” With respect to taxpayer’s suits, Terr v. Jordan[57] held that “the right of a citizen and a taxpayer to maintain an action in courts to restrain the unlawful use of public funds to his injury cannot be denied.[58]

 

 

Petitioners De Castro (G.R. No. 191002), Soriano (G.R. No. 191032) and Peralta (G.R. No. 191149) all assert their right as citizens filing their petitions on behalf of the public who are directly affected by the issue of the appointment of the next Chief Justice. De Castro and Soriano further claim standing as taxpayers, with Soriano averring that he is affected by the continuing proceedings in the JBC, which involve “unnecessary, if not, illegal disbursement of public funds.”[59]

 

PHILCONSA alleges itself to be a non-stock, non-profit organization existing under the law for the purpose of defending, protecting, and preserving the Constitution and promoting its growth and flowering. It also alleges that the Court has recognized its legal standing to file cases on constitutional issues in several cases.[60]

 

In A.M. No. 10-2-5-SC, Mendoza states that he is a citizen of the Philippines, a member of the Philippine Bar engaged in the active practice of law, and a former Solicitor General, former Minister of Justice, former Member of the Interim Batasang Pambansa and the Regular Batasang Pambansa, and former member of the Faculty of the College of Law of the University of the Philippines.

 

The petitioners in G.R. No. 191342 are the Governors of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) for Southern Luzon and Eastern Visayas. They allege that they have the legal standing to enjoin the submission of the list of nominees by the JBC to the President, for “[a]n adjudication of the proper interpretation and application of the constitutional ban on midnight appointments with regard to respondent JBC’s function in submitting the list of nominees is well within the concern of petitioners, who are duty bound to ensure that obedience and respect for the Constitution is upheld, most especially by government offices, such as respondent JBC, who are specifically tasked to perform crucial functions in the whole scheme of our democratic institution.” They further allege that, reposed in them as members of the Bar, is a clear legal interest in the process of selecting the members of the Supreme Court, and in the selection of the Chief Justice, considering that the person appointed becomes a member of the body that has constitutional supervision and authority over them and other members of the legal profession.[61]

         

The Court rules that the petitioners have each demonstrated adequate interest in the outcome of the controversy as to vest them with the requisite locus standi. The issues before us are of transcendental importance to the people as a whole, and to the petitioners in particular. Indeed, the issues affect everyone (including the petitioners), regardless of one’s personal interest in life, because they concern that great doubt about the authority of the incumbent President to appoint not only the successor of the retiring incumbent Chief Justice, but also others who may serve in the Judiciary, which already suffers from a far too great number of vacancies in the ranks of trial judges throughout the country.

 

In any event, the Court retains the broad discretion to waive the requirement of legal standing in favor of any petitioner when the matter involved has transcendental importance, or otherwise requires a liberalization of the requirement.[62]

 

Yet, if any doubt still lingers about the locus standi of any petitioner, we dispel the doubt now in order to remove any obstacle or obstruction to the resolution of the essential issue squarely presented herein. We are not to shirk from discharging our solemn duty by reason alone of an obstacle more technical than otherwise. In Agan, Jr. v. Philippine International Air Terminals Co., Inc.,[63] we pointed out: “Standing is a peculiar concept in constitutional law because in some cases, suits are not brought by parties who have been personally injured by the operation of a law or any other government act but by concerned citizens, taxpayers or voters who actually sue in the public interest.” But even if, strictly speaking, the petitioners “are not covered by the definition, it is still within the wide discretion of the Court to waive the requirement and so remove the impediment to its addressing and resolving the serious constitutional questions raised.”[64]

 

Justiciability

 

Intervenor NUPL maintains that there is no actual case or controversy that is appropriate or ripe for adjudication, considering that although the selection process commenced by the JBC is going on, there is yet no final list of nominees; hence, there is no imminent controversy as to whether such list must be submitted to the incumbent President, or reserved for submission to the incoming President.

 

Intervenor Tan raises the lack of any actual justiciable controversy that is ripe for judicial determination, pointing out that petitioner De Castro has not even shown that the JBC has already completed its selection process and is now ready to submit the list to the incumbent President; and that petitioner De Castro is merely presenting a hypothetical scenario that is clearly not sufficient for the Court to exercise its power of judicial review.

 

Intervenors Corvera and Lim separately opine that De Castro’s petition rests on an overbroad and vague allegation of political tension, which is insufficient basis for the Court to exercise its power of judicial review.

 

Intervenor BAYAN et al. contend that the petitioners are seeking a mere advisory opinion on what the JBC and the President should do, and are not invoking any issues that are justiciable in nature.

 

Intervenors Bello et al. submit that there exist no conflict of legal rights and no assertion of opposite legal claims in any of the petitions; that PHILCONSA does not allege any action taken by the JBC, but simply avers that the conditional manifestations of two Members of the Court, accented by the divided opinions and interpretations of legal experts, or associations of lawyers and law students on the issues published in the daily newspapers are “matters of paramount and transcendental importance to the bench, bar and general public”; that PHILCONSA fails not only to cite any legal duty or allege any failure to perform the duty, but also to indicate what specific action should be done by the JBC; that Mendoza does not even attempt to portray the matter as a controversy or conflict of rights, but, instead, prays that the Court should “rule for the guidance of” the JBC; that the fact that the Court supervises the JBC does not automatically imply that the Court can rule on the issues presented in the Mendoza petition, because supervision involves oversight, which means that the subordinate officer or body must first act, and if such action is not in accordance with prescribed rules, then, and only then, may the person exercising oversight order the action to be redone to conform to the prescribed rules; that the Mendoza petition does not allege that the JBC has performed a specific act susceptible to correction for being illegal or unconstitutional; and that the Mendoza petition asks the Court to issue an advisory ruling, not to exercise its power of supervision to correct a wrong act by the JBC, but to declare the state of the law in the absence of an actual case or controversy.

 

We hold that the petitions set forth an actual case or controversy that is ripe for judicial determination. The reality is that the JBC already commenced the proceedings for the selection of the nominees to be included in a short list to be submitted to the President for consideration of which of them will succeed Chief Justice Puno as the next Chief Justice. Although the position is not yet vacant, the fact that the JBC began the process of nomination pursuant to its rules and practices, although it has yet to decide whether to submit the list of nominees to the incumbent outgoing President or to the next President, makes the situation ripe for judicial determination, because the next steps are the public interview of the candidates, the preparation of the short list of candidates, and the “interview of constitutional experts, as may be needed.”

 

A part of the question to be reviewed by the Court is whether the JBC properly initiated the process, there being an insistence from some of the oppositors-intervenors that the JBC could only do so once the vacancy has occurred (that is, after May 17, 2010). Another part is, of course, whether the JBC may resume its process until the short list is prepared, in view of the provision of Section 4(1), Article VIII, which unqualifiedly requires the President to appoint one from the short list to fill the vacancy in the Supreme Court (be it the Chief Justice or an Associate Justice) within 90 days from the occurrence of the vacancy.

 

The ripeness of the controversy for judicial determination may not be doubted. The challenges to the authority of the JBC to open the process of nomination and to continue the process until the submission of the list of nominees; the insistence of some of the petitioners to compel the JBC through mandamus to submit the short list to the incumbent President; the counter-insistence of the intervenors to prohibit the JBC from submitting the short list to the incumbent President on the ground that said list should be submitted instead to the next President; the strong position that the incumbent President is already prohibited under Section 15, Article VII from making any appointments, including those to the Judiciary, starting on May 10, 2010 until June 30, 2010; and the contrary position that the incumbent President is not so prohibited are only some of the real issues for determination. All such issues establish the ripeness of the controversy, considering that for some the short list must be submitted before the vacancy actually occurs by May 17, 2010. The outcome will not be an abstraction, or a merely hypothetical exercise. The resolution of the controversy will surely settle with finality the nagging questions that are preventing the JBC from moving on with the process that it already began, or that are reasons persuading the JBC to desist from the rest of the process.     

 

We need not await the occurrence of the vacancy by May 17, 2010 in order for the principal issue to ripe for judicial determination by the Court. It is enough that one alleges conduct arguably affected with a constitutional interest, but seemingly proscribed by the Constitution. A reasonable certainty of the occurrence of the perceived threat to a constitutional interest is sufficient to afford a basis for bringing a challenge, provided the Court has sufficient facts before it to enable it to intelligently adjudicate the issues.[65] Herein, the facts are not in doubt, for only legal issues remain.

 

Substantive Merits

 

I

Prohibition under Section 15, Article VII does not apply

to appointments to fill a vacancy in the Supreme Court

or to other appointments to the Judiciary

 

 

Two constitutional provisions are seemingly in conflict.

 

The first, Section 15, Article VII (Executive Department), provides:

 

Section 15. Two months immediately before the next presidential elections and up to the end of his term, a President or Acting President shall not make appointments, except temporary appointments to executive positions when continued vacancies therein will prejudice public service or endanger public safety.

 

 

The other, Section 4 (1), Article VIII (Judicial Department), states:

 

Section 4. (1). The Supreme Court shall be composed of a Chief Justice and fourteen Associate Justices. It may sit en banc or in its discretion, in division of three, five, or seven Members. Any vacancy shall be filled within ninety days from the occurrence thereof.

 

 

In the consolidated petitions, the petitioners, with the exception of Soriano, Tolentino and Inting, submit that the incumbent President can appoint the successor of Chief Justice Puno upon his retirement on May 17, 2010, on the ground that the prohibition against presidential appointments under Section 15, Article VII does not extend to appointments in the Judiciary.

  

 

The Court agrees with the submission.

 

First. The records of the deliberations of the Constitutional Commission reveal that the framers devoted time to meticulously drafting, styling, and arranging the Constitution. Such meticulousness indicates that the organization and arrangement of the provisions of the Constitution were not arbitrarily or whimsically done by the framers, but purposely made to reflect their intention and manifest their vision of what the Constitution should contain.

 

The Constitution consists of 18 Articles, three of which embody the allocation of the awesome powers of government among the three great departments, the Legislative (Article VI), the Executive (Article VII), and the Judicial Departments (Article VIII). The arrangement was a true recognition of the principle of separation of powers that underlies the political structure, as Constitutional Commissioner Adolfo S. Azcuna (later a worthy member of the Court) explained in his sponsorship speech:

 

We have in the political part of this Constitution opted for the separation of powers in government because we believe that the only way to protect freedom and liberty is to separate and divide the awesome powers of government. Hence, we return to the separation of powers doctrine and the legislative, executive and judicial departments.[66]

 

 

 

As can be seen, Article VII is devoted to the Executive Department, and, among others, it lists the powers vested by the Constitution in the President. The presidential power of appointment is dealt with in Sections 14, 15 and 16 of the Article.

 

Article VIII is dedicated to the Judicial Department and defines the duties and qualifications of Members of the Supreme Court, among others. Section 4(1) and Section 9 of this Article are the provisions specifically providing for the appointment of Supreme Court Justices. In particular, Section 9 states that the appointment of Supreme Court Justices can only be made by the President upon the submission of a list of at least three nominees by the JBC; Section 4(1) of the Article mandates the President to fill the vacancy within 90 days from the occurrence of the vacancy.

 

Had the framers intended to extend the prohibition contained in Section 15, Article VII to the appointment of Members of the Supreme Court, they could have explicitly done so. They could not have ignored the meticulous ordering of the provisions. They would have easily and surely written the prohibition made explicit in Section 15, Article VII as being equally applicable to the appointment of Members of the Supreme Court in Article VIII itself, most likely in Section 4 (1), Article VIII. That such specification was not done only reveals that the prohibition against the President or Acting President making appointments within two months before the next presidential elections and up to the end of the President’s or Acting President’s term does not refer to the Members of the Supreme Court.

 

 

 

Although Valenzuela[67] came to hold that the prohibition covered even judicial appointments, it cannot be disputed that the Valenzuela dictum did not firmly rest on the deliberations of the Constitutional Commission. Thereby, the confirmation made to the JBC by then Senior Associate Justice Florenz D. Regalado of this Court, a former member of the Constitutional Commission, about the prohibition not being intended to apply to the appointments to the Judiciary, which confirmation Valenzuela even expressly mentioned, should prevail.

 

          Relevantly, Valenzuela adverted to the intent of the framers in the genesis of Section 4 (1), Article VIII, viz:

 

V            . Intent of the Constitutional Commission

 

The journal of the Commission which drew up the present Constitution discloses that the original proposal was to have an eleven-member Supreme Court. Commissioner Eulogio Lerum wanted to increase the number of Justices to fifteen. He also wished to ensure that that number would not be reduced for any appreciable length of time (even only temporarily), and to this end proposed that any vacancy “must be filled within two months from the date that the vacancy occurs.”  His proposal to have a 15-member Court was not initially adopted.  Persisting however in his desire to make certain that the size  of the Court would not be decreased for any substantial period as a result of vacancies, Lerum proposed the insertion in the provision (anent the Court’s membership) of the same mandate that “IN CASE OF ANY VACANCY, THE SAME SHALL BE FILLED WITHIN TWO MONTHS FROM OCCURRENCE THEREOF.”  He later agreed to suggestions to make the period three, instead of two, months.  As thus amended, the proposal was approved. As it turned out, however, the Commission ultimately agreed on a fifteen-member Court. Thus it was that the section fixing the composition of the Supreme Court came to include a command to fill up any vacancy therein within 90 days from its occurrence.

 

In this connection, it may be pointed out that that instruction that any “vacancy shall be filled within ninety days” (in the last sentence of Section 4 (1) of Article VIII) contrasts with the prohibition in Section 15, Article VII, which is couched in stronger negative language - that “a President or Acting President shall not make appointments…”

 

The commission later approved a proposal of Commissioner Hilario G. Davide, Jr. (now a Member of this Court) to add to what is now Section 9 of Article VIII, the following paragraph: “WITH RESPECT TO LOWER COURTS, THE PRESIDENT SHALL ISSUE THE APPOINTMENT WITHIN NINETY DAYS FROM THE SUBMISSION OF THE LIST” (of nominees by the Judicial and Bar Council to the President). Davide stated that his purpose was to provide a “uniform rule” for lower courts.  According to him, the 90-day period should be counted from submission of the list of nominees to the President in view of the possibility that the President might reject the list submitted to him and the JBC thus need more time to submit a new one.

 

On the other hand, Section 15, Article VII - which in effect deprives the President of his appointing power “two months immediately before  the next presidential elections up to the end of  his term” - was approved without discussion.[68]

 

          However, the reference to the records of the Constitutional Commission did not advance or support the result in Valenzuela. Far to the contrary, the records disclosed the express intent of the framers to enshrine in the Constitution, upon the initiative of Commissioner Eulogio Lerum, “a command [to the President] to fill up any vacancy therein within 90 days from its occurrence,” which even Valenzuela conceded.[69] The exchanges during deliberations of the Constitutional Commission on October 8, 1986 further show that the filling of a vacancy in the Supreme Court within the 90-day period was a true mandate for the President, viz:

 

MR. DE CASTRO. I understand that our justices now in the Supreme Court, together with the Chief Justice, are only 11.

 

MR. CONCEPCION. Yes.

 

MR. DE CASTRO. And the second sentence of this subsection reads: “Any vacancy shall be filled within ninety days from the occurrence thereof.”

 

MR. CONCEPCION. That is right.

 

MR. DE CASTRO. Is this now a mandate to the executive to fill the vacancy?

 

MR. CONCEPCION. That is right. That is borne out of the fact that in the past 30 years, seldom has the Court had a complete complement.[70]

         

Moreover, the usage in Section 4(1), Article VIII of the word shall – an imperative, operating to impose a duty that may be enforced[71] – should not be disregarded. Thereby, Sections 4(1) imposes on the President the imperative duty to make an appointment of a Member of the Supreme Court within 90 days from the occurrence of the vacancy. The failure by the President to do so will be a clear disobedience to the Constitution.

 

The 90-day limitation fixed in Section 4(1), Article VIII for the President to fill the vacancy in the Supreme Court was undoubtedly a special provision to establish a definite mandate for the President as the appointing power, and cannot be defeated by mere judicial interpretation in Valenzuela to the effect that Section 15, Article VII prevailed because it was “couched in stronger negative language.” Such interpretation even turned out to be conjectural, in light of the records of the Constitutional Commission’s deliberations on Section 4 (1), Article VIII.

 

How Valenzuela justified its pronouncement and result is hardly warranted. According to an authority on statutory construction:[72]

 

xxx the court should seek to avoid any conflict in the provisions of the statute by endeavoring to harmonize and reconcile every part so that each shall be effective. It is not easy to draft a statute, or any other writing for that matter, which may not in some manner contain conflicting provisions. But what appears to the reader to be a conflict may not have seemed so to the drafter. Undoubtedly, each provision was inserted for a definite reason. Often by considering the enactment in its entirety, what appears to be on its face a conflict may be cleared up and the provisions reconciled.

 

Consequently, that construction which will leave every word operative will be favored over one which leaves some word or provision meaningless because of inconsistency. But a word should not be given effect, if to do so gives the statute a meaning contrary to the intent of the legislature. On the other hand, if full effect cannot be given to the words of a statute, they must be made effective as far as possible. Nor should the provisions of a statute which are inconsistent be harmonized at a sacrifice of the legislative intention. It may be that two provisions are irreconcilable; if so, the one which expresses the intent of the law-makers should control. And the arbitrary rule has been frequently announced that where there is an irreconcilable conflict between the different provisions of a statute, the provision last in order of position will prevail, since it is the latest expression of the legislative will. Obviously, the rule is subject to deserved criticism. It is seldom applied, and probably then only where an irreconcilable conflict exists between different sections of the same act, and after all other means of ascertaining the meaning of the legislature have been exhausted. Where the conflict is between two statutes, more may be said in favor of the rule’s application, largely because of the principle of implied repeal.

 

 

In this connection, PHILCONSA’s urging of a revisit and a review of Valenzuela is timely and appropriate. Valenzuela arbitrarily ignored the express intent of the Constitutional Commission to have Section 4 (1), Article VIII stand independently of any other provision, least of all one found in Article VII. It further ignored that the two provisions had no irreconcilable conflict, regardless of Section 15, Article VII being couched in the negative. As judges, we are not to unduly interpret, and should not accept an interpretation that defeats the intent of the framers.[73]

 

          Consequently, prohibiting the incumbent President from appointing a Chief Justice on the premise that Section 15, Article VII extends to appointments in the Judiciary cannot be sustained. A misinterpretation like Valenzuela should not be allowed to last after its false premises have been exposed.[74] It will not do to merely distinguish Valenzuela from these cases, for the result to be reached herein is entirely incompatible with what  Valenzuela decreed. Consequently, Valenzuela now deserves to be quickly sent to the dustbin of the unworthy and forgettable.

 

We reverse Valenzuela.

 

Second. Section 15, Article VII does not apply as well to all other appointments in the Judiciary.

 

There is no question that one of the reasons underlying the adoption of Section 15 as part of Article VII was to eliminate midnight appointments from being made by an outgoing Chief Executive in the mold of the appointments dealt with in the leading case of Aytona v. Castillo.[75] In fact, in Valenzuela, the Court so observed, stating that:

 

xxx it appears that Section 15, Article VII is directed against two types of appointments: (1) those made for buying votes and (2) those made for partisan considerations. The first refers to those appointments made within the two months preceding a Presidential election and are similar to those which are declared election offenses in the Omnibus Election Code, viz.:

 

xxx

 

The second type of appointments prohibited by Section 15, Article VII consists of the so-called “midnight” appointments. In Aytona v. Castillo, it was held that after the proclamation of Diosdado Macapagal as duly elected President, President Carlos P. Garcia, who was defeated in his bid for reelection, became no more than a “caretaker” administrator whose duty was to “prepare for the orderly transfer of authority to the incoming President.”  Said the Court:

 

The filling up of vacancies in  important positions, if few, and so spaced as to afford some assurance of deliberate action and careful consideration of the need for the appointment and appointee's qualifications may undoubtedly be permitted.  But the issuance of 350 appointments in one night and the planned induction of almost all of them in a few hours before the inauguration of the new President may, with some reason, be regarded by the latter as an abuse of Presidential prerogatives, the steps taken being apparently a mere partisan effort to fill all vacant positions irrespective of fitness and other conditions, and thereby to deprive the new administration of an opportunity to make the corresponding appointments.”

 

As indicated, the Court recognized that there may well be appointments to important positions which have to be made even after the proclamation of the new President.  Such appointments, so long as they are “few and so spaced as to afford some assurance of deliberate action and careful consideration of the need for the appointment and the appointee’s qualifications,” can be made by the outgoing President.  Accordingly, several appointments made by President Garcia, which were shown to have been well considered, were upheld.

 

Section 15, Article VII has a broader scope than the Aytona ruling.  It may not unreasonably be deemed to contemplate not only “midnight” appointments – those made obviously for partisan reasons as shown by their number and the time of their making – but also appointments presumed made for the purpose of influencing the outcome of the Presidential election.

 

On the other hand, the exception in the same Section 15 of Article VII – allowing appointments to be made during the period of the ban therein provided – is much narrower than that recognized in Aytona.  The exception allows only the making of temporary appointments to executive positions when continued vacancies will prejudice public service or endanger public safety. Obviously, the article greatly restricts the appointing power of the President during the period of the ban.

 

Considering the respective reasons for the time frames for filling vacancies in the courts and the restriction on the President's power of appointment, it is this Court’s view that, as a general proposition, in case of conflict, the former should yield to the latter.  Surely, the prevention of vote-buying and similar evils outweighs the need for avoiding delays in filling up of court vacancies or the disposition of some cases.  Temporary vacancies can abide the period of the ban which, incidentally and as earlier  pointed  out, comes to exist only once in every six years.  Moreover, those occurring in the lower courts can be filled temporarily by designation.  But prohibited appointments are long-lasting and permanent in their effects.  They may, as earlier pointed out, in fact influence the results of elections and, for that reason, their making is considered an election offense.[76]

 

 

Given the background and rationale for the prohibition in Section 15, Article VII, we have no doubt that the Constitutional Commission confined the prohibition to appointments made in the Executive Department. The framers did not need to extend the prohibition to appointments in the Judiciary, because their establishment of the JBC and their subjecting the nomination and screening of candidates for judicial positions to the unhurried and deliberate prior process of the JBC ensured that there would no longer be midnight appointments to the Judiciary. If midnight appointments in the mold of Aytona were made in haste and with irregularities, or made by an outgoing Chief Executive in the last days of his administration out of a desire to subvert the policies of the incoming President or for partisanship,[77] the appointments to the Judiciary made after the establishment of the JBC would not be suffering from such defects because of the JBC’s prior processing of candidates. Indeed, it is axiomatic in statutory construction that the ascertainment of the purpose of the enactment is a step in the process of ascertaining the intent or meaning of the enactment, because the reason for the enactment must necessarily shed considerable light on “the law of the statute,” i.e., the intent; hence, the enactment should be construed with reference to its intended scope and purpose, and the court should seek to carry out this purpose rather than to defeat it.[78]

 

Also, the intervention of the JBC eliminates the danger that appointments to the Judiciary can be made for the purpose of buying votes in a coming presidential election, or of satisfying partisan considerations. The experience from the time of the establishment of the JBC shows that even candidates for judicial positions at any level backed by people influential with the President could not always be assured of being recommended for the consideration of the President, because they first had to undergo the vetting of the JBC and pass muster there.  Indeed, the creation of the JBC was precisely intended to de-politicize the Judiciary by doing away with the intervention of the Commission on Appointments. This insulating process was absent from the Aytona midnight appointment.

 

Third. As earlier stated, the non-applicability of Section 15, Article VII to appointments in the Judiciary was confirmed by then Senior Associate Justice Regalado to the JBC itself when it met on March 9, 1998 to discuss the question raised by some sectors about the “constitutionality of xxx appointments” to the Court of Appeals in light of the forthcoming presidential elections. He assured that “on the basis of the (Constitutional) Commission’s records, the election ban had no application to appointments to the Court of Appeals.”[79] This confirmation was accepted by the JBC, which then submitted to the President for consideration the nominations for the eight vacancies in the Court of Appeals.[80]

 

The fault of Valenzuela was that it accorded no weight and due consideration to the confirmation of Justice Regalado. Valenzuela was weak, because it relied on interpretation to determine the intent of the framers rather than on the deliberations of the Constitutional Commission. Much of the unfounded doubt about the President’s power to appoint during the period of prohibition in Section 15, Article VII could have been dispelled since its promulgation on November 9, 1998, had Valenzuela properly acknowledged and relied on the confirmation of a distinguished member of the Constitutional Commission like Justice Regalado.

 

Fourth. Of the 23 sections in Article VII, three (i.e., Section 14, Section15, and Section 16) concern the appointing powers of the President.

 

Section 14 speaks of the power of the succeeding President to revoke appointments made by an Acting President,[81] and evidently refers only to appointments in the Executive Department. It has no application to appointments in the Judiciary, because temporary or acting appointments can only undermine the independence of the Judiciary due to their being revocable at will.[82] The letter and spirit of the Constitution safeguard that independence. Also, there is no law in the books that authorizes the revocation of appointments in the Judiciary. Prior to their mandatory retirement or resignation, judges of the first and second level courts and the Justices of the third level courts may only be removed for cause, but the Members of the Supreme Court may be removed only by impeachment.

 

Section 16 covers only the presidential appointments that require confirmation by the Commission on Appointments. Thereby, the Constitutional Commission restored the requirement of confirmation by the Commission on Appointments after the requirement was removed from the 1973 Constitution. Yet, because of Section 9 of Article VIII, the restored requirement did not include appointments to the Judiciary.[83]

 

Section 14, Section 15, and Section 16 are obviously of the same character, in that they affect the power of the President to appoint. The fact that Section 14 and Section 16 refer only to appointments within the Executive Department renders conclusive that Section 15 also applies only to the Executive Department. This conclusion is consistent with the rule that every part of the statute must be interpreted with reference to the context, i.e. that every part must be considered together with the other parts, and kept subservient to the general intent of the whole enactment.[84] It is absurd to assume that the framers deliberately situated Section 15 between Section 14 and Section 16, if they intended Section 15 to cover all kinds of presidential appointments. If that was their intention in respect of appointments to the Judiciary, the framers, if only to be clear, would have easily and surely inserted a similar prohibition in Article VIII, most likely within Section 4 (1) thereof.

 

Fifth. To hold like the Court did in Valenzuela that Section 15 extends to appointments to the Judiciary further undermines the intent of the Constitution of ensuring the independence of the Judicial Department from the Executive and Legislative Departments. Such a holding will tie the Judiciary and the Supreme Court to the fortunes or misfortunes of political leaders vying for the Presidency in a presidential election. Consequently, the wisdom of having the new President, instead of the current incumbent President, appoint the next Chief Justice is itself suspect, and cannot ensure judicial independence, because the appointee can also become beholden to the appointing authority. In contrast, the appointment by the incumbent President does not run the same risk of compromising judicial independence, precisely because her term will end by June 30, 2010.

 

Sixth. The argument has been raised to the effect that there will be no need for the incumbent President to appoint during the prohibition period the successor of Chief Justice Puno within the context of Section 4 (1), Article VIII, because anyway there will still be about 45 days of the 90 days mandated in Section 4(1), Article VIII remaining.

 

The argument is flawed, because it is focused only on the coming vacancy occurring from Chief Justice Puno’s retirement by May 17, 2010. It ignores the need to apply Section 4(1) to every situation of a vacancy in the Supreme Court.

 

The argument also rests on the fallacious assumption that there will still be time remaining in the 90-day period under Section 4(1), Article VIII. The fallacy is easily demonstrable, as the OSG has shown in its comment.

 

Section 4 (3), Article VII requires the regular elections to be held on the second Monday of May, letting the elections fall on May 8, at the earliest, or May 14, at the latest. If the regular presidential elections are held on May 8, the period of the prohibition is 115 days. If such elections are held on May 14, the period of the prohibition is 109 days. Either period of the prohibition is longer than the full mandatory 90-day period to fill the vacancy in the Supreme Court. The result is that there are at least 19 occasions (i.e., the difference between the shortest possible period of the ban of 109 days and the 90-day mandatory period for appointments) in which the outgoing President would be in no position to comply with the constitutional duty to fill up a vacancy in the Supreme Court. It is safe to assume that the framers of the Constitution could not have intended such an absurdity.  In fact, in their deliberations on the mandatory period for the appointment of Supreme Court Justices under Section 4 (1), Article VIII, the framers neither discussed, nor mentioned, nor referred to the ban against midnight appointments under Section 15, Article VII, or its effects on the 90-day period, or vice versa. They did not need to, because they never intended Section 15, Article VII to apply to a vacancy in the Supreme Court, or in any of the lower courts.

 

Seventh. As a matter of fact, in an extreme case,  we can even raise a doubt on whether a JBC list is necessary at all for the President any President to appoint a Chief Justice if the appointee is to come from the ranks of the sitting justices of the Supreme Court. 

Sec. 9, Article VIII says:

 

xxx. The Members of the Supreme Court xxx shall be appointed by the President from a list of at least three nominees prepared by the Judicial and Bar Council for any vacancy. Such appointments need no confirmation.

xxx

 

 

          The provision clearly refers to an appointee coming into the Supreme Court from the outside, that is, a non-member of the Court aspiring to become one.  It speaks of candidates for the Supreme Court, not of those who are already members or sitting justices of the Court, all of whom have previously been vetted by the JBC. 

 

Can the President, therefore, appoint any of the incumbent Justices of the Court as Chief Justice?

 

The question is not squarely before us at the moment, but it should lend itself to a deeper analysis if and when circumstances permit. It should be a good issue for the proposed Constitutional Convention to consider in the light of Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile’s statement that the President can appoint the Chief Justice from among the sitting justices of the Court even without a JBC list.

 

II

The Judiciary Act of 1948

 

          The posture has been taken that no urgency exists for the President to appoint the successor of Chief Justice Puno, considering that the Judiciary Act of 1948 can still address the situation of having the next President appoint the successor.

 

 

Section 12 of the Judiciary Act of 1948 states:

 

Section 12. Vacancy in Office of Chief Justice. — In case of a vacancy in the office of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court or of his inability to perform the duties and powers of his office, they shall devolve upon the Associate Justice who is first in precedence, until such disability is removed, or another Chief Justice is appointed and duly qualified. This provision shall apply to every Associate Justice who succeeds to the office of Chief Justice.

 

 

The provision calls for an Acting Chief Justice in the event of a vacancy in the office of the Chief Justice, or in the event that the Chief Justice is unable to perform his duties and powers. In either of such circumstances, the duties and powers of the office of the Chief Justice shall devolve upon the Associate Justice who is first in precedence until a new Chief Justice is appointed or until the disability is removed.

 

          Notwithstanding that there is no pressing need to dwell on this peripheral matter after the Court has hereby resolved the question of consequence, we do not find it amiss to confront the matter now.

 

          We cannot agree with the posture.

 

          A review of Sections 4(1) and 9 of Article VIII shows that the Supreme Court is composed of a Chief Justice and 14 Associate Justices, who all shall be appointed by the President from a list of at least three nominees prepared by the JBC for every vacancy, which appointments require no confirmation by the Commission on Appointments. With reference to the Chief Justice, he or she is appointed by the President as Chief Justice, and the appointment is never in an acting capacity. The express reference to a Chief Justice abhors the idea that the framers contemplated an Acting Chief Justice to head the membership of the Supreme Court. Otherwise, they would have simply written so in the Constitution. Consequently, to rely on Section 12 of the Judiciary Act of 1948 in order to forestall the imperative need to appoint the next Chief Justice soonest is to defy the plain intent of the Constitution.

 

For sure, the framers intended the position of Chief Justice to be permanent, not one to be occupied in an acting or temporary capacity. In relation to the scheme of things under the present Constitution, Section 12 of the Judiciary Act of 1948 only responds to a rare situation in which the new Chief Justice is not yet appointed, or in which the incumbent Chief Justice is unable to perform the duties and powers of the office. It ought to be remembered, however, that it was enacted because the Chief Justice appointed under the 1935 Constitution was subject to the confirmation of the Commission on Appointments, and the confirmation process might take longer than expected.

 

The appointment of the next Chief Justice by the incumbent President is preferable to having the Associate Justice who is first in precedence take over. Under the Constitution, the heads of the Legislative and Executive Departments are popularly elected, and whoever are elected and proclaimed at once become the leaders of their respective Departments. However, the lack of any appointed occupant of the office of Chief Justice harms the independence of the Judiciary, because the Chief Justice is the head of the entire Judiciary. The Chief Justice performs functions absolutely significant to the life of the nation. With the entire Supreme Court being the Presidential Electoral Tribunal, the Chief Justice is the Chairman of the Tribunal. There being no obstacle to the appointment of the next Chief Justice, aside from its being mandatory for the incumbent President to make within the 90-day period from May 17, 2010, there is no justification to insist that the successor of Chief Justice Puno be appointed by the next President.

 

Historically, under the present Constitution, there has been no wide gap between the retirement and the resignation of an incumbent Chief Justice, on one hand, and the appointment to and assumption of office of his successor, on the other hand. As summarized in the comment of the OSG, the chronology of succession is as follows:

 

1.     When Chief Justice Claudio Teehankee retired on April 18, 1988, Chief Justice Pedro Yap was appointed on the same day;

 

2.     When Chief Justice Yap retired on July 1, 1988, Chief Justice Marcelo Fernan was appointed on the same day;

 

3.     When Chief Justice Fernan resigned on December 7, 1991, Chief Justice Andres Narvasa was appointed the following day, December 8, 1991;

 

4.     When Chief Justice Narvasa retired on November 29, 1998, Chief Justice Hilario Davide, Jr. was sworn into office the following early morning of November 30, 1998;

 

5.     When Chief Justice Davide retired on December 19, 2005, Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban was appointed the next day, December 20, 2005; and

 

6.     When Chief Justice Panganiban retired on December 6, 2006, Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno took his oath as Chief Justice at midnight of December 6, 2006.[85]

 

III

Writ of mandamus does not lie against the JBC

 

          May the JBC be compelled to submit the list of nominees to the President? 

 

          Mandamus shall issue when any tribunal, corporation, board, officer or person unlawfully neglects the performance of an act that the law specifically enjoins as a duty resulting from an office, trust, or station.[86] It is proper when the act against which it is directed is one addressed to the discretion of the tribunal or officer. Mandamus is not available to direct the exercise of a judgment or discretion in a particular way.[87]

 

          For mandamus to lie, the following requisites must be complied with: (a) the plaintiff has a clear legal right to the act demanded; (b) it must be the duty of the defendant to perform the act, because it is mandated by law; (c) the defendant unlawfully neglects the performance of the duty enjoined by law; (d) the act to be performed is ministerial, not discretionary; and (e) there is no appeal or any other plain, speedy and adequate remedy in the ordinary course of law.

 

Section 8(5) and Section 9, Article VIII, mandate the JBC to submit a list of at least three nominees to the President for every vacancy in the Judiciary:

 

Section 8. xxx

 

(5) The Council shall have the principal function of recommending appointees to the Judiciary. xxx

 

Section 9. The Members of the Supreme Court and judges of lower courts shall be appointed by the President from a list of at least three nominees prepared by the Judicial and Bar Council for every vacancy. Such appointments need no confirmation.

 

For the lower courts, the President shall issue the appointments within ninety days from the submission of the list.

 

 

However, Section 4(1) and Section 9, Article VIII, mandate the President to fill the vacancy in the Supreme Court within 90 days from the occurrence of the vacancy, and within 90 days from the submission of the list, in the case of the lower courts. The 90-day period is directed at the President, not at the JBC. Thus, the JBC should start the process of selecting the candidates to fill the vacancy in the Supreme Court before the occurrence of the vacancy.

 

Under the Constitution, it is mandatory for the JBC to submit to the President the list of nominees to fill a vacancy in the Supreme Court in order to enable the President to appoint one of them within the 90-day period from the occurrence of the vacancy. The JBC has no discretion to submit the list to the President after the vacancy occurs, because that shortens the 90-day period allowed by the Constitution for the President to make the appointment. For the JBC to do so will be unconscionable on its part, considering that it will thereby effectively and illegally deprive the President of the ample time granted under the Constitution to reflect on the qualifications of the nominees named in the list of the JBC before making the appointment.

 

The duty of the JBC to submit a list of nominees before the start of the President’s mandatory 90-day period to appoint is ministerial, but its selection of the candidates whose names will be in the list to be submitted to the President lies within the discretion of the JBC. The object of the petitions for mandamus herein should only refer to the duty to submit to the President the list of nominees for every vacancy in the Judiciary, because in order to constitute unlawful neglect of duty, there must be an unjustified delay in performing that duty.[88] For mandamus to lie against the JBC, therefore, there should be an unexplained delay on its part in recommending nominees to the Judiciary, that is, in submitting the list to the President.

 

The distinction between a ministerial act and a discretionary one has been delineated in the following manner:

 

       The distinction between a ministerial and discretionary act is well delineated. A purely ministerial act or duty is one which an officer or tribunal performs in a given state of facts, in a prescribed manner, in obedience to the mandate of a legal authority, without regard to or the exercise of his own judgment upon the propriety or impropriety of the act done. If the law imposes a duty upon a public officer and gives him the right to decide how or when the duty shall be performed, such duty is discretionary and not ministerial. The duty is ministerial only when the discharge of the same requires neither the exercise of official discretion or judgment.[89]

 

 

          Accordingly, we find no sufficient grounds to grant the petitions for mandamus and to issue a writ of mandamus against the JBC. The actions for that purpose are premature, because it is clear that the JBC still has until May 17, 2010, at the latest, within which to submit the list of nominees to the President to fill the vacancy created by the compulsory retirement of Chief Justice Puno.

 

 

IV

Writ of prohibition does not lie against the JBC

 

 

In light of the foregoing disquisitions, the conclusion is ineluctable that only the President can appoint the Chief Justice. Hence, Soriano’s petition for prohibition in G.R. No. 191032, which proposes to prevent the JBC from intervening in the process of nominating the successor of Chief Justice Puno, lacks merit.

 

On the other hand, the petition for prohibition in G.R. No. 191342 is similarly devoid of merit. The challenge mounted against the composition of the JBC based on the allegedly unconstitutional allocation of a vote each to the ex officio members from the Senate and the House of Representatives, thereby prejudicing the chances of some candidates for nomination by raising the minimum number of votes required in accordance with the rules of the JBC, is not based on the petitioners’ actual interest, because they have not alleged in their petition that they were nominated to the JBC to fill some vacancies in the Judiciary. Thus, the petitioners lack locus standi on that issue.

 

 

WHEREFORE, the Court:

 

1.     Dismisses the petitions for certiorari and mandamus in G.R. No. 191002 and G.R. No. 191149, and the petition for mandamus in G.R. No. 191057 for being premature;

 

2.     Dismisses the petitions for prohibition in G.R. No. 191032 and G.R. No. 191342 for lack of merit; and

 

3.     Grants the petition in A.M. No. 10-2-5-SC and, accordingly, directs the Judicial and Bar Council:

 

(a) To resume its proceedings for the nomination of candidates to fill the vacancy to be created by the compulsory retirement of Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno by May 17, 2010;

 

(b) To prepare the short list of nominees for the position of Chief Justice;

 

(c) To submit to the incumbent President the short list of nominees for the position of Chief Justice on or before May 17, 2010; and

 

(d) To continue its  proceedings  for the  nomination of candidates to fill other vacancies in the Judiciary and submit to the President the short list of nominees corresponding thereto in accordance with this decision.

 

SO ORDERED.

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                    LUCAS P. BERSAMIN

                                                                          Associate Justice

 

WE CONCUR:

 

 

 

 

 

REYNATO S. PUNO

Chief Justice

 

 

 

 

 

         ANTONIO T. CARPIO                        RENATO C. CORONA

                Associate Justice                                     Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CONCHITA CARPIO MORALES       PRESBITERO J. VELASCO, JR.     

               Associate Justice                                         Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

 

ANTONIO EDUARDO B. NACHURA    TERESITA J. LEONARDO-DE CASTRO                                                                                                                                                                                          

           Associate Justice                                                  Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

 

           ARTURO D. BRION                         DIOSDADO M. PERALTA

                Associate Justice                                      Associate Justice

 



 

                                                                                      

    MARIANO C. DEL CASTILLO                    ROBERTO A. ABAD

                  Associate Justice                                       Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

 

 

        MARTIN S. VILLARAMA, JR.           JOSE PORTUGAL PEREZ

                      Associate Justice                                  Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

 

 

JOSE CATRAL MENDOZA

Associate Justice

 

 

 

C E R T I F I C A T I O N

 

 

            Pursuant to Section 13, Article VIII of the Constitution, it is hereby certified that the conclusions in the above Decision had been reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Court.

 

 

 

 

                                                                   REYNATO S. PUNO

                                                                          Chief Justice

 



[1]       Filed on February 9, 2010.

[2]       Begun on February 23, 2010.

[3]       Initiated on February 10, 2010.

[4]       Commenced on February 11, 2010.

[5]       Dated February 15, 2010.

[6]       Filed on March 8, 2010.

[7]       A.M. No. 98-5-01-SC, November 9, 1998, 298 SCRA 408.

[8]       Petition in G.R. No. 191002, pp. 3-4.

[9]       Id., p. 5.

[10]     Petition in G.R. No. 191032, pp. 4-8.

[11]     Petition in G.R. No. 191057, pp. 1-2.

[12]     Id., p. 11.

[13]     Petition in G.R. No. 191149.

[14]     Petition in G.R. No. 191342.

[15]     http://jbc.judiciary.gov.ph/announcements/JBCreCJ.pdf

[16]     http://jbc.judiciary.gov.ph/announcements/jbc_announce_2009/jan22%20%2710.pdf

[17]     Comment of the JBC, p. 3.

[18]     Id.

[19]     Id., pp. 4-5.

[20]     Id., p. 5.

[21]     Id.

[22]     Id., p. 6.

[23]     Petition in A.M. No. 10-2-5-SC, pp. 5-6.

[24]     Comment of the JBC, p. 6.

[25]     Id., p. 7; bold emphasis is in the original text.

[26]     Comment of the OSG, pp. 13-14.

[27]     Id., p. 14.

[28]     Id., p. 15.

[29]     Id., pp. 20-24.

[30]     Id., pp. 25-27.

[31]     Id., pp. 29-30.

[32]     Id.

[33]     Id., pp. 32-33.

[34]     Id., pp. 34-35.

[35]     Id.

[36]     Id., pp. 35-36. The OSG posits:

National interest compels the President to make such appointment for it is particularly during this crucial period when national leaders are seeking fresh mandates from the people that the Supreme Court, more than at any other time, represents stability. Hence, a full court is ideal to ensure not only due deliberation on and careful consideration of issues but also expeditious disposition of cases.

Indeed, such function becomes especially significant in view of the fact that this is the first time that the whole country will experience automated elections.

[37]     Id., pp. 36-37. The OSG stresses:

The possible fallouts or serious aftermath of allowing a vacuum in the position of the Chief Justice may be greater and riskier than the consequences or repercussions of inaction. Needless to state, the appointment of the Chief Justice of this Honorable Court (sic) is the most important appointment vested by the 1987 Constitution to (sic) the President.

[38]     Id., p. 37.

[39]     Id., p. 38.

[40]     Filed by Atty. Pitero M. Reig.

[41]     Black’s Law Dictionary, 941 (6th Ed. 1991).

[42]     G.R. No. 155001, May 5, 2003, 402 SCRA 612.

[43]     Citing Kilosbayan, Inc. v. Morato, G.R. No. 118910, July 17, 1995, 246 SCRA 540, 562-563, citing Baker v. Carr, 369 U.S. 186, 7 L. Ed. 633 (1962).

[44]     Citing Kilosbayan, Inc. v. Morato, supra; Bayan v. Zamora, G.R. No. 138570, October 10, 2000; 342 SCRA 449, 478.

[45]     65 Phil. 56.

[46]     G.R. No. 117, November 7, 1945 (Unreported).

[47]     G.R. No. 2947, January 11, 1959 (Unreported).

[48]     77 Phil. 1012 (1947).

[49]     110 Phil. 331 (1960).

[50]     84 Phil. 368 (1949)

[51]     E.g., Chavez v. Public Estates Authority, G.R. No. 133250, July 9, 2002, 384 SCRA 152 (in which the Court ruled that the enforcement of the constitutional right to information and the equitable diffusion of natural resources are matters of transcendental importance which clothe the petitioner with locus standi); Bagong Alyansang Makabayan v. Zamora, G.R. Nos. 138570, 138572, 138587, 138680, 138698, October 10, 2000, 342 SCRA 449 (in which the Court held that “given the transcendental importance of the issues involved, the Court may relax the standing requirements and allow the suit to prosper despite the lack of direct injury to the parties seeking judicial review” of the Visiting Forces Agreement); Lim v. Executive Secretary, G.R. No. 151445, April 11, 2002, 380 SCRA 739 (in which the Court, albeit conceding that the petitioners might not file suit in their capacity as taxpayers without a showing that Balikatan 02-01 involved the exercise of Congress’ taxing or spending powers, reiterated Bagong Alyansang Makabayan v. Zamora, declaring that cases of transcendental importance must be settled promptly and definitely and the standing requirements may be relaxed); and Osmeńa v. Commission on Elections, G.R. No. 100318, 100308, 100417,100420, July 30, 1991, 199 SCRA 750 (in which the Court held that where serious constitutional questions were involved, the transcendental  importance to the public of the cases demanded that they be settled promptly and definitely, brushing aside technicalities of procedure).

[52]     L-No. 40004, January 31, 1975, 62 SCRA 275.

[53]     E.g., Tańada v. Tuvera, G.R. No. 63915, April 24, 1985, 136 SCRA 27 (in which the Court held that it is sufficient that the petitioner is a citizen interested in the execution of the law, because the question is one of public duty and the enforcement of a public right, and the people are the real party-in-interest); Legaspi v. Civil Service Commission, G.R. No. 72119, May 29, 1987, 150 SCRA 530 (in which the Court declared that where an assertion of a public right is involved, the requirement of personal interest is satisfied by the mere fact that the petitioner is a citizen and is part of the general public which possesses the right); Kapatiran ng mga Naglilingkod sa Pamahalaan ng Pilipinas, Inc. v. Tan, L. No. 81311, June 30, 1988, 163 SCRA 371 (in which the Court disregarded objections to taxpayers’ lack of personality to sue in determining the validity of the VAT Law); Albano v. Reyes, G.R. No. 83551, July 11, 1989, 175 SCRA 264 (in which the Court pronounced that although no expenditure of public funds was involved in the questioned contract, the petitioner was nonetheless clothed with the legal personality under the disclosure provision of the Constitution to question it, considering its important role in the economic development of the country and the magnitude of the financial consideration involved, indicating that public interest was definitely involved); and Association of Small Landowners in the Philippines, Inc. v. Sec. of Agrarian Reform, G.R. No. 78742, July 14, 1989, 175 SCRA 343 (in which the Court ruled that it had the discretion to waive the requirement of locus standi in determining the validity of the implementation of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program, although the petitioners were not, strictly speaking, covered by the definition of  proper party).

[54]     David v. Macapagal-Arroyo, G.R. No. 171396, May 3, 2006, 489 SCRA 160.

[55]     275 Ky 91, 120 SW2d 765 (1938).

[56]     19  Wend. 56 (1837).

[57]     232  NC 48, 59 SE2d 359 (1950).

[58]     Bold emphasis is in the original text.

[59]     Petition in G.R. No. 191032, p. 2.

[60]     Petition in G.R. No. 191057, pp. 3-4; citing  the cases of PHILCONSA v. Gimenez, 15 SCRA 479; PHILCONSA v. Mathay, 18 SCRA 300; PHILCONSA v. Enriquez, 235 SCRA 506; and Lambino v. COMELEC, 505 SCRA 160.

[61]     Petition in G.R. No. 191342, pp. 2-3.

[62]     See, for instance, Integrated Bar of the Philippines v. Zamora, G.R. No. 141284, August 15, 2000, 338 SCRA 81 (where the petitioner questioned the validity of the deployment and utilization of the Marines to assist the PNP in law enforcement,  asserting that IBP was the official organization of Filipino lawyers tasked with the bounden duty to uphold the rule of law and the Constitution, but the Court held that the IBP had not shown that it was so tasked: “In this case, a reading of the petition shows that the IBP has advanced constitutional issues which deserve the attention of this Court in view of their seriousness, novelty and weight as precedents.  Moreover, because peace and order are under constant threat and lawless violence occurs in increasing tempo, undoubtedly aggravated by the Mindanao insurgency problem, the legal controversy raised in the petition almost certainly will not go away.  It will stare us in the face again.  It, therefore, behooves the Court to relax the rules on standing and to resolve the issue now, rather than later”, and went on to resolve the issues because the petitioner advanced constitutional issues that deserved the attention of the Court in view of their seriousness, novelty, and weight as precedents).

[63]     Supra, note 42, p. 645.

[64]     Id.

[65]     See Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. 1, 113-118 (1976); Regional Rail Reoganization Act Cases, 419 U.S. 102, 138-148 (1974).

[66]    Record of Proceedings and Debates of the Constitutional Commission, Vol. V., p. 912, October 12, 1998.

[67]     Supra, note 6, p. 426-427, stating:

Considering the respective reasons for the time frames for filling vacancies in the courts and the restriction on the President’s power of appointment, it is this Court’s view that, as a general proposition, in case of conflict, the former should yield to the latter.  Surely, the prevention of vote-buying and similar evils outweighs the need for avoiding delays in filling up of court vacancies or the disposition of some cases. Temporary vacancies can abide the period of the ban which, incidentally and as earlier  pointed  out, comes to exist only once in every six years.  Moreover, those occurring in the lower courts can be filled temporarily by designation.  But prohibited appointments are long-lasting and permanent in their effects.  They may, as earlier pointed out, in fact influence the results of elections and, for that reason, their making is considered an election offense.

To the contention that may perhaps be asserted, that Sections 4 (1) and 9 of Article VIII should prevail over Section 15 of Article VII, because they may be considered later expressions of the people when they adopted  the Constitution, it suffices to point out that the Constitution must be construed in its entirety as one, single, instrument.

To be sure, instances may be conceived of the imperative need for an appointment, during the period of the ban, not only in the executive but also in the Supreme Court. This may be the case should the membership of the court be so reduced that it will have no quorum or should the voting on a particularly important question requiring expeditious resolution be evenly divided.  Such a case, however, is covered by neither Section 15 of Article VII nor Section 4 (1) and 9 of Article VIII.

[68]     Id., pp. 422-423.

[69]     Id., p. 423.

[70]     Record of Proceedings and Debates of the Constitutional Commission, Vol. V.,  pp. 632-633.

[71]     Dizon v. Encarnacion, G.R. No. L-18615, December 24, 1963, 9 SCRA 714.

[72]     Crawford, Earl. T., The Construction of Statutes, Thomas Law Book Company, St. Louis, Missouri, 262-264 (1940).

[73]     Garcia v. Social Security Commission Legal and Collection, G.R. No. 170735, December 17, 2007, 540 SCRA 456, 472; citing Escosura v. San Miguel Brewery, Inc., 4 SCRA 285, (1962).

[74]     According to Arizona v. Rumsey, 467 U. S. 203, 212 (1984): “Although adherence to precedent is not rigidly required in constitutional cases, any departure from the doctrine of stare decisis demands special justification.” The special justification for the reversal of Valenzuela lies in its intrinsic unsoundness.

[75]     No. L-19313, January 19, 1962, 4 SCRA 1.

[76]     Supra, note 6, pp. 424-426; bold underscoring supplied for emphasis.

[77]     Aytona v. Castillo, supra, note 74, pp. 8-10 (N.B. - In the time material to Aytona, there were judges of the Court of First Instance who were appointed to districts that had no vacancies, because the incumbents had not qualified for other districts to which they had been supposedly transferred or promoted; at any rate, the appointments still required confirmation by the Commission on Appointments).

[78]     Crawford, op. cit., supra, note 72, pp. 248-249.

[79]     Supra, note 6, p. 413.

[80]     Id.

[81]     Section 14. Appointments extended by an Acting President shall remain effective, unless revoked by the elected President within ninety days from his assumption or reassumption of office.

[82]     Cruz, I., Philippine Political Law, 253 (2002); also Rilloraza v. Vargas,  80 Phil. 297 (1948).

[83]     Record of Proceedings and Debates of the Constitutional Commission, Vol. V., p. 908, which indicates that in his sponsorship speech delivered on October 12, 1986 on the floor of the Constitutional Commission, Commissioner Teofisto Guingona explained that “[a]ppointments to the judiciary shall not be subject to confirmation by the Commission on Appointments.”

[84]       Rodriguez, Statutory Construction, 171 (1999).

[85]     Comment of the OSG, p. 37.

[86]     Section 3, Rule 65, 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure.

[87]     JG Summit Holdings, Inc. v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 124293, November 20, 2000, 345 SCRA 143.

[88]     Nery v. Gamolo, A.M. No. P-01-1508, February 7, 2003, 397 SCRA 110, citing Musni v. Morales, 315 SCRA 85, 86 (1999).

[89]     Espiridion v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 146933, June 8, 2006, 490 SCRA 273.

. No. 146933, June 8, 2006, 490 SCRA 273.