I have always held that the Constitution means what the Supreme Court says it means, until the Supreme Court changes its mind. And, yes, the Supreme Court does, once in a while, change its mind. But the responsibility for interpreting the meaning of the Constitution at any given time belongs to the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court has decided with finality that the President may appoint a Chief Justice even during the two month period immediately preceding a presidential election. I and many others in the legal profession have disagreed and still disagree with the correctness of the decision. But our disagreeing does not change the fact that for now it is the most recent decision of the Supreme Court that is the law on the subject.
The current decision is a reversal of a 1998 decision which upheld the challenge made by President Diosdado Macapagal to incumbent President Garcia’s appointments made during the prohibited period. The current decision upholding the daughter’s desire to do what the father opposed will stay unless perhaps six years from now a Supreme Court with a different composition should revert to what the Macapagal pater believed.
A decision six years from now, however, or even a constitutional amendment, will not help those who oppose the legitimacy of Corona’s appointment. The present Constitution authorizes the President to make appointments to the Supreme Court from a list submitted by the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC). The JBC duly submitted a list and from that list President Arroyo chose to crown Corona. The process is legally unassailable even if, in the view of many, morally questionable.
True it is that the validity of appointments also depends upon the existence of a vacancy. But the nomination to a vacancy that is certain to occur may be done and can ripen into a valid appointment provided that when the vacancy occurs the official who made the nomination still has the authority to appoint. A vacancy was certain to occur last May 17. When May 17 arrived President Arroyo still had the power. It is as simple as that.
I can understand why Senator Noynoy Aquino is not rejoicing about Corona’s appointment. But I am sure that he is wise enough to realize that he cannot have everything he desires. There is just constitutionally no way that Corona can be ousted from his post now.
True it is that President Diosdado Macapagal moved to reverse “midnight” appointments made by outgoing President Carlos Garcia. But that was in 1998 when we had a different set of justices in the Supreme Court. I simply cannot see the present Supreme Court upholding any attempt to reverse outgoing Arroyo’s appointment of Corona.
Aquino is being tempted by some to move to oust Corona. Listening to such temptation will not help his presidency at all. It will not help the nation. Nor will it have a leg to stand on.
I am not unaware of the dissatisfaction of many with the direction taken by the current Supreme Court in the recent past involving, for instance, executive privilege, “midnight” appointments, and the creation of a playground in Bicol for young Dato Arroyo. It is a direction which makes the independence of the Supreme Court suspect. But I also must accept the fact that, like the Church, the Supreme Court is a human institution that is not perfect. Of the Church it is said that it is an institution semper reformanda, always in need of reform. That the Court and the judiciary in general have room for reform is a human given. Chief Justice Reynato Puno was keenly aware of this fact and had initiated moves in the direction of reform.
I am also certain that the new Chief Justice as well as the other members of the Supreme Court are not blind to this human given. And I doubt that they would claim that the choices made of them by their benefactress were the best she could have done for the nation. In defense of Arroyo’s choice, Chief Justice Corona has been quoted as saying that he is his own man. Certainly the other justices could also make the claim that they are their own women and men. Let us leave it at that and wait for the flowers to bloom.
Our elders spoke of the pre-martial law years as the golden age of the judiciary. If we only have bronze or silver now, or even aluminum, it may yet evolve into a golden crown.
Let me close with another aspect of our tainted humanity. It is known that Senator Aquino toyed with the idea of taking his oath before a barangay captain. It could have been a gesture of thanksgiving to the masses who elected him to office. As it turns out, however, it might not be just a barong Tagalog which a barangay captain lacks but also legal authority. But contrary to what the Malacañang “constitutionalist” Saludo claims, the Constitution does not obligate Aquino to take his oath before Corona. Nevertheless, taking the oath before the Chief Justice would be an assurance, addressed to an anxious public, that he does not intend to be a rogue President and that he recognizes the Court as a co-equal body, warts and all. If he has any qualms about it, he might assuage his feelings by remembering what someone greater than he said about the Pharisees: Listen to what they say but do not do what they do.
24 May 2010