Fact-checking Chief Justice Puno to prevent a rewriting of history
In his June 20 column, Conrado de Quiros argued against observing seniority in the selection of the next chief justice. He cited the case of former Chief Justice Reynato Puno, who was first bypassed but later appointed by former President Gloria Arroyo. By his account, Puno supposedly struck down the attempt to revise the Constitution through a people’s initiative.
Before history gets rewritten, it is worth revisiting the facts. The Supreme Court in 2006 handed down a historic decision penned by now acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio, and concurred in by former Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban, invalidating the attempt to revise the Charter. The vote was a close 8-7.
Puno actually voted with the minority and wrote a dissenting opinion. The case was laid to rest when motions for reconsideration were denied on Nov. 21, 2006. Puno stuck to his vote with the minority. A few weeks later, specifically on Dec. 8, 2006, Arroyo appointed Puno as chief justice.
Years later, on Jan. 18, 2010, Puno convened the Judicial and Bar Council, at the behest of then Rep. Matias Defensor Jr., a member of the JBC, for purposes of selecting Puno’s successor upon his retirement on May 17, 2010. Various groups objected to Puno’s move. They argued that it would pave the way for the appointment by Arroyo of a midnight chief justice. Previously, former Chief Justice Andres Narvasa refused to convene the JBC, stopping a similar attempt to make midnight appointments to the judiciary.
As foretold, the JBC meeting convened by Puno heralded the appointment of Renato Corona as the 23rd chief justice of the Supreme Court, bypassing Carpio. The midnight appointment of Corona was later affirmed by a controversial decision that overturned a prior ruling by the Narvasa Court. Corona was later impeached.
Corona’s ascension as chief justice came barely seven days after President Aquino was elected into office on May 10, 2010. Ironically, if Puno’s position in the people’s initiative case got just one more vote back in 2006, there would have been no presidential elections in 2010 for the people to elect President Aquino.
As a vital social institution, the judiciary, like the military, must be insulated from politics. Seniority is a cherished tradition in both. It minimizes politicking among aspirants for promotion and helps insulate the institutions from political patronage.
An accurate retelling of history teaches us that politicking jurists undermines judicial independence. Sadly, now that there is a vacancy in the Office of the Chief Justice, history is being conveniently revised.
—NEIL B. NUCUP,
Malcolm Hall, UP College of Law,
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