Philippines outgoing President Gloria Arroyo, brushing off questions about her constitutional powers, named the next chief justice of the Supreme Court, which may decide any corruption cases against her once she steps down.
Arroyo appointed Justice Renato Corona, 61, who served as her chief of staff when she was vice president, her spokesman Ricardo Saludo, said in a mobile phone text message today. He will succeed the incumbent, who retires on May 17. Benigno Aquino, who is the leading candidate to replace Arroyo, had earlier said he won’t recognise her choice of chief justice.
The opposition tried three times to impeach Arroyo on corruption and other allegations, losing each time as she denied the allegations and her House of Representatives majority stood fast. Senator Benigno Aquino, who is leading the vote count from this week’s presidential election, said he will prosecute her when she steps down and loses immunity. Predecessor Joseph Estrada was under arrest for six years while on trial for graft.
“The legitimacy of his appointment as chief justice will forever be in question,” said Vincent Lazatin, co-convenor of Supreme Court Appointments Watch, a Manila-based body that monitors judicial appointments. Of shortlisted candidates “he’s the most senior, so in a sense it follows tradition, but the larger issue is the current president is not the appropriate appointing authority.”
While the constitution bans the president from making appointments within two months of an election, the Supreme Court in March said this didn’t cover the position of chief justice.
Arroyo appointed all 15 members of the Supreme Court, apart from incumbent Chief Justice Reynato Puno, who has reached the retirement age of 70. The only way to remove a sitting Supreme Court justice is by impeachment.
Aquino said he may ask the court to review its ruling or pursue impeachment, without saying against whom.
“It would be interesting to see what happens if Aquino is elected and stands by his word and appoints another chief justice,” Casiple said. “That may set the stage for a constitutional crisis.”
Arroyo picked Corona from a list put forward by the Judicial and Bar Council, which vets court nominees.