Rocky Transition

by Juan L. Mercado

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, is stowing personal effects as the Aquino II regime prepares to move into Malacanang,  Executive Secretary Leonardo Mendoza said. So are other Palace officials.

Transitions from Corazon Aquino to Fidel Ramos, and thereafter to Joseph Estrada, were seamless. “But this one will be rocky,” observers predicted.

That forecast came to pass when the President made another quarter-before-midnight appointment. She chose Justice Renato  Corona to succeed Reynato Puno who retires as Supreme Court chief justice May 17.


For over half-a-century, the country worked by the rule that an outgoing president is no more than a caretaker. The 1987 Constitution explicitly adopted that canon by barring midnight appointments. Crammed with Arroyo appointees, the Supreme  would handcuff incoming President Benigno Aquino. They exempted a chief justice from the ban.  

This is Arroyo’s “”declaration of war “against Aquino, Senator Aquilino Pimentel commented. Rep Mikey Arroyo opened a second front saying: His mother would seek to become Speaker of the House – which the LP’s Sonny Belmonte will contest.

Corona should reject the appointment, said the highly-regarded Philippine Bar Association president Simeon Marcelo. That’d  save the Court from “further attacks on it’s credibility”. It already reels from flip flops and integrity issues.

Refusal calls for delicadeza values that place right above profit.  It is a rare trait. “To be honest, as this world goes/Is to be one man picked out of ten thousand,” Hamlet mused.

Not one of Ms. Arroyo’s midnight appointees displayed delicadeza.  All clung kapit-tuko to their sinecures. So did  President Carlos Garcia’s 350 “midnighters” and President Diosdado Macapagal’s  1,717 appointees.

Richard Rich betrayed his mentor Thomas More, we read in “A Man For All  Seasons.”.  As a reward from Henry VIII,  Rich got to rule  Wales. Before  More’s execution, Thomas examines his former student’s medallion and  wondered: “Why, Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world… But for Wales?”

Will Justice Corona turn out to be a Thomas More?  Or a Richard Rich?

Part of  the answer is implicit in the new book: Shadow of Doubt: Probing the Supreme  Court.  Written by Newsbreak’s Marites Danguilan Vitug, it provides an in-depth look at this “least scrutinized of public institutions”.  Excerpts:

  • ”In her nine years in power, Arroyo appointed 23 justices, not too far from Ferdinand Marcos 32 during his 22 years in power”. Benigno Aquino will appoint, over the next six years, only four justices.  (”Our Constitution was not written in the sands to be washed away by each new wave of judges blown in by each successive political wind,” Justice Hugo Black wrote in 1970.)The rise of a controversial person like court administrator Presbitero Velasco to the tribunal is the Old Boys culture in the judiciary…Friendships and networks trump merit and  integrity….”
  • Presidents Ramos and Arroyo wanted Corona on the high court. “What earned him such powerful backing was his loyalty”.  Justices Dante Tinga, Presbitero Velasco and Renato Corrona “emerged as the core group loyal to President Arroyo. They voted consistently as a bloc in critical cases”, e.g. the people’s initiative” that would have keelhauled the constitution and extended Ms. Arroyo’s term. Most of Corona’s decisions favored Ms Arroyo. He penned landmark decisions, e.g. forfeiture of the $658 million that the Marcoses squirreled into Swiss bank deposits.
  • Ramos got the Judical Bar Council to press the Supreme Court to nominate justices within the prohibited period just before elections. “Corona could have been  Ramos last appointee to the Court.”  But the tribunal didn’t buckle. Thru Chief Justice Andres Narvasa, it refused to consider the 90-day before election ban “suspended or interrupted …Corona was left in the lurch…He joined then Vice President Gloria Arroyo as her chief-of-staff.
  • “It was the First Gentleman Miguel ‘Mike’ Arroyo who linked him up with his wife.  Mr. Arroyo was a couple of years ahead of Corona at law school.” Her boss named the burly six footer to the Court, then got the same Court to shred it’s ban on midnight appointments for chief justice.
  • Flip flops by the Court have eroded it’s credibility.  In 16 cities that were reverted into towns “the Court entertained a new third motion for reconsideration . That is unheard of in Court annals”.  The U-turn  declared the 16 towns new cities, despite a final and executory judgement.   “If the ultimate guardian of our law violates it’s own rules, then we have a problem”.
  • Among other flip flops: Manotok vs Barquel dealt with righting a wrong. Benjamin Romualdes vs Simeo Marcelo accommodated  a person of influence. Vested economic interests left unsettling questions in the Batangas Port case. “When reversals happen for some other reason than new legal issues and facts, the Court’s credibility is put at risk.”
  • “The country’s institutions were weakened, specially under President Arroyo, because personal considerations came first,” Vitug writes. This phenomenon did not spare the judiciary. The personal trumped the institutional.”

(Email: juanlmercado@gmail.comThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it )

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