Owing to mounting pressure from the executive department following the impeachment of Chief Justice Renato Corona, two justices of the 15-member Supreme Court (SC) are reportedly contemplating stepping down this year, sources revealed yesterday.
Three separate sources revealed the two appointees of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo would cut their term short and have made known their intention of relinquishing their posts, even if their retirements go beyond the term of President Aquino.
The STAR, however, is withholding the names of the two magistrates and the circumstances under which they would be retiring early by way of resignation.
Vaguely, the first justice is supposed to retire in 2019 while the other one retires in 2017. Aquino will be stepping down from the presidency on June 30, 2016, after his fixed six-year term in office.
Of the 15 justices, Aquino only has three appointees - Justices Maria Lourdes Sereno, Bienvenido Reyes and Estela Perlas-Bernabe. The rest were appointees of Arroyo, now a Pampanga representative.
While the 13 are Arroyo appointees, one of them - Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio - has been vocal against the former president, whose family had been his client for a long time until their falling out sometime in 2006, or after the “Hello, Garci” election fraud scandal broke out.
Carpio’s law firm had been opposing Corona’s appointment, but failed. But now with the impeachment trial, hopes have again resurfaced, especially because he has been sympathetic to Aquino, and his law firm advises Transportation and Communications Secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas II.
While the current impeachment is focused on Corona, Aquino is open to the idea of having all the Arroyo-appointed justices impeached, if only for his reform agenda to bear fruit, as he sees them as stumbling blocks to his efforts to reform government.
Preparing a replacement
Aquino has asked his legal advisers for a list of candidates who might replace Corona even in the absence of a vacancy.
“He’s not a lawyer that’s why he needs to rely on his legal team to look into (such list),” presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said earlier.
Lacierda though clarified this is not in any way an encroachment on the turf of the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC).
“Very clearly, the President did not instruct the JBC, the President instructed his legal advisers in case that there will be a removal of a chief justice to look for a chief justice but there is still shortlist yet. Let me clarify, there is still no shortlist yet,” he said.
The nine-man JBC is the constitutional body that screens nominees to the judiciary, comes up with a shortlist and submits it to the President, who shall choose from among the list on who he wants to appoint.
The JBC can only screen candidates to a post once it is declared vacant. In this case, Corona has yet to undergo trial at the Senate impeachment court starting Jan. 16, and has yet to be acquitted or convicted, which means there is no vacancy for the top SC post.
“This is merely an eventuality but he has asked his legal advisers to look into names for possible chief justice. But there is no shortlist yet. There’s no legal issue because we’re just preparing for a contingency. This is just a contingency,” Lacierda said.
Aquino also has the option of appointing an outsider - or a lawyer who does not come from the ranks of the 15 Supreme Court justices.
“The President mentioned that he’s open to an outsider,” Lacierda said.
In an interview with veteran reporter Lynda Jumilla, host of ABS-CBN News Channel’s “Strictly Politics,” Aquino admitted having asked his legal team to give him a list of possible candidates who could replace Corona.
Aquino said he is not yet looking at Corona’s replacement but wants to be ready in case the Chief Justice is removed.
When asked if he wants Carpio as Corona’s replacement, Aquino said, “There’s no shortlist yet.”