CALIFORNIA?Pomp and circumstance usually attend the chief justice swearing-in of Philippine presidents, the closest to a royal coronation that Philippine officialdom can offer.
But the pomp in the circumstance behind the midnight appointment of Renato Corona as chief justice of the Philippine Supreme Court has altered the time-honored tradition. This time President-elect Noynoy Aquino will not be sworn in by a high chief justice but by a lowly barangay captain.
There may be powerful symbolism in being sworn in by the head of the most basic governmental unit in the country and certainly doing so will give more meaning to the words in the oath where the president swears to ?do justice to every man, and consecrate myself to the service of the nation. So help me God.?
But there can be no doubting that President-elect Noynoy Aquino?s refusal to be sworn in by Chief Justice Renato Corona is based on his long-stated opposition to the midnight appointment of Corona by outgoing President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
The dispute is centered on the interpretation of Section 15, Article 7 of the Constitution: ?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.?
If there was any doubt about the correct interpretation of this provision, the deliberations by the framers of the Constitution make clear precisely what they meant as the powerful dissenting opinion of Associate Justice Conchita Carpio Morales makes so evident.
?The idea of the proposal is that about the end of the term of the President, he may prolong his rule indirectly by appointing people to these sensitive positions, like the commissions, the Ombudsman, the judiciary, so he could perpetuate himself in power even beyond his term of office; therefore foreclosing the right of his successor to make appointments to these positions. We should realize that the term of the President is six years and under what we had voted on, there is no re-election for him. Yet he can continue to rule the country through appointments made about the end of his term to these sensitive positions.? (ConCon delegate Hilario Davide)
The function of the Supreme Court is to interpret the law. In deciding by a 9-1 vote that President Arroyo has the power to make a midnight appointment to the judiciary, the Supreme Court effectively amended the Constitution.
Among the nine who voted to give President Arroyo this extraordinary power was Renato Corona, who previously served as Arroyo's political spokesman and chief of staff in Malacanang when Arroyo assumed the presidency in 2001 and even earlier, when she was vice president.
In April 2002, when a vacancy occurred in the Philippine Supreme Court, Arroyo appointed Corona. Critics compare this appointment to George W. Bush?s controversial nomination of his personal lawyer, Harriet Miers, to a seat on the US Supreme Court. Both Miers and Corona had never served as a judge and both were personally close and loyal to their presidents.
In her newly published book, "Shadow of Doubt: Probing the Supreme Court" (Newsbreak, 2010), veteran journalist Marites Dańguilan-Vitug examined the inner workings of the Philippine Supreme Court.
In page 201 of her book, Vitug writes: ?When (Corona?s) name came up as a contender for a seat on the Court, critics hollered that he was going to be a Malacanang lackey, citing his close ties with Arroyo. He refuted this in an interview with Newsbreak in 2002, finding the comments about him to be ?too sweeping.? He went on: ?Who are they to guess what my future actions will be? Perhaps they should give me enough leeway to prove to all and sundry that I?m not politically biased.??
?But after seven years on the Court, Corona?s loyalty to the appointing power was indisputable. He consistently voted for President Arroyo in a number of politically consequential cases.?
?Among justices when he is relaxed, Corona can be quite open. He once told some of his colleagues that President Arroyo took care of his hospital bill when he underwent an operation to ease his bad back. He was already on the Court then.?
?His wife, Maria Cristina Roco Corona, was appointed by President Arroyo to the Board of the John Hay Management Corporation (She later became president and COO).?
In the years to come, when corruption and plunder cases are brought against Gloria and Mike Arroyo and the cases are elevated up to the Philippine Supreme Court, does anyone doubt how Chief Justice Corona will rule on those cases?
As Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) chairman Elmer Labog said, ?By appointing the justice who is most loyal to her to head the Supreme Court, Arroyo is passing a thorny crown to Senator Aquino. She is leaving yet another ugly legacy to the next administration and to the Filipino people.?
It may be a ?thorny crown? but the one consolation is that at least President-elect Noynoy Aquino will not be corona-ted by Arroyo?s Midnight Chief Justice.