Corona’s “Midnight” Appointment: Legal or not?

Note:  This blog is composed of 3 pages for easier reading. 

These days as the local news media is rife with stories of the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona, people often hear the sentiment and impassioned opinion of a lot of our countrymen that the midnight appointment of SC Chief Justice Renato Corona was unconstitutional.

In my previous blog entry, i shared the view that Filipinos mostly allow themselves to be dictated upon by political and institutional forces.  There is no harm in believing in these institutions. So long as the Filipino arrives at a fully informed choice, where he weighs pros and cons, listens to both approving and dissenting voices and opinions, and from there decide on his own.  We have to go against this cultural mentality that being mediocre is enough, that run-of-the-mill thinking is a “happier” (and less stressful) alternative than pursuing knowledge.  We have to raise the bar of our collective consciousness as a nation.

What Does The Constitution Say?

Article VII, Section 15:  No Midnight Appointments

The argument made by people that Corona’s appointment as Chief Justice was unconstitutional makes reference to  Article VII, Section 15 of the Constitution.  It must be noted that Article VII of the Constitution touches on the roles, responsibilities and duties of the Executive branch of the government, headed by the President.  Sections 14, 15 and 16 cover rules governing how the President makes appointments.  To quote from the 1987 Constitution:

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.

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.

Section 16. The President shall nominate and, with the consent of the Commission on Appointments, appoint the heads of the executive departments, ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, or officers of the armed forces from the rank of colonel or naval captain, and other officers whose appointments are vested in him in this Constitution. He shall also appoint all other officers of the Government whose appointments are not otherwise provided for by law, and those whom he may be authorized by law to appoint. The Congress may, by law, vest the appointment of other officers lower in rank in the President alone, in the courts, or in the heads of departments, agencies, commissions, or boards.

Article VIII : The Judiciary

Note that what triggered Renato Corona’s appointment to Chief Justice was because of  the retirement of then Chief Justice Reynato Puno scheduled on May 17, 2010.  The vacancy of the highest position in Supreme Court provided then-President Arroyo the opportunity to fill that vacancy.

Article VIII of the Philippine Constitution lays down the responsibilities and duties entrusted upon the Judicial branch of government.  Section 4. (1) mandates the composition of the Supreme court and the prescriptive period when a vacancy should be filled.

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.

Also, Section 8.(5) and 9 of Article VIII defines the functions of the Judicial Bar and Council.  One of JBC’s functions is to present to the President a list of nominees for any vacancy within the judiciary for appointment consideration.  To quote:

Section 8.(5) The Council shall have the principal function of recommending appointees to the Judiciary. It may exercise such other functions and duties as the Supreme Court may assign to it.

Section 9. The Members of the Supreme Court and judges of the 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.

Constitutional Dilemma?

Seemingly, the Executive appointment rules on Article VII are incongruent with that of the specified sections in Article VIII.  Now, several questions arise when you read the above proscriptions of the Constitution.

  • Was the appointment of the Chief Justice within the scope of Article VII, Section 15?
  • Was it constitutional for the JBC to present a recommended list of nominees in advance, considering the vacancy had yet to happen and that Puno had not yet retired?
  • Is the position of Chief Justice subject to the confirmation of the Commission of Appointments as stated in Section 16? Or is there no need for confirmation as specified in Section 9 of Article VIII?
  • In exercising a new President’s power to revoke an appointment made by a former President, does it apply to the Judiciary?
  • Did the appointment of Chief Justice Renato Corona by former President GMA run the risk of the judiciary’s subservience to her?
  • Was the appointment of of Chief Justice Renato Corona constitutional?

Through research, let us try to answer the above questions.  Despite my lack of legal education, it must be noted that this blog entry caters towards my plea for Filipinos. That even without resorting to credentialism, one must take the initiative to objectively know the facts in order to arrive at a position.  The conclusions arrived in this blog, though, takes on a personal insight.  (After all, it is my blog.)

In the next page, allow me to discuss the different views of legal and political personalities of the period prior to Corona’s appointment.

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