Alan F. Paguia
Former Professor of Law
Ateneo Law School
University of Batangas
Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila
May 18, 2010
Is Associate Justice Renato Corona’s appointment as Chief Justice valid or invalid?
1. On January 20, 2010, the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) formally announced “the opening for application or recommendation, of the position of CHIEF JUSTICE OF THE SUPREME COURT, which will be vacated on 17 May 2010 upon the retirement of the incumbent Chief Justice, HON. REYNATO S. PUNO.”
2. Subsequently, on May 5, 2010, the JBC submitted a short list of four (4) nominees, namely Supreme Court Associate Justices Arturo Brion, Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, Renato Corona, and Sandiganbayan Acting Presiding Justice Edilberto Sandoval, to the Office of the President. Earlier, the JBC excluded two (2) other nominees – Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and Associate Justice Conchita Carpio-Morales – who had maintained that Mrs. Arroyo is barred by the 1987 Constitution from appointing Chief Justice Puno’s successor, and that they would not accept such an appointment from her. SRG
3. On the morning of May 17, 2010, Mr. Justice Renato Corona took his oath as the 23rd Chief Justice of the Supreme Court before Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo at the Malacañang Palace.
4. The 1987 Constitution materially provides that: “The Members of the Supreme Court… shall be appointed by the President from a list of at least three nominees prepared by the Judicial and Bar Council for every vacancy…” (Sec. 9, Art. VIII).
5. Under the Constitution, the Supreme Court is composed of a Chief Justice and fourteen (14) Associate Justices. They are the fifteen (15) Members of the Court.
6. The “vacancy” cited by the law refers to the position of “Member” of the Court.
7. The law mandatorily requires “at least three nominees” for every such “vacancy”.
8. In other words, the JBC appears to have committed a misstep in its aforementioned announcement. Instead of referring to the position of “Member” of the Supreme Court, as expressly provided by law, it erroneously referred to the position of “CHIEF JUSTICE OF THE SUPREME COURT”.
9. The parties’ intention is clear. The JBC, Mrs. Arroyo, and Mr. Justice Corona all intended to follow the cited provision of the Constitution.
10. Did the JBC submit “at least three nominees” for the vacant position of “Member” of the Supreme Court?
11. The answer is NO. While it submitted the names of four nominees, only Justice Sandoval of the Sandiganbayan could be appointed to fill the vacancy. The other three are already Members of the High Court.
12. Under the Civil Code, acts executed against the provisions of mandatory or prohibitory laws shall be void, except when the law itself authorizes their validity (Art. 5). In the JBC’s case, the exception does not apply. The law itself does not authorize the validity of the questioned nominations.
13. According to the Supreme Court, VOID means: “no legal existence” (Velasco v. Lopez, 1 Phil 720). Consequently, (a) the JBC’s void list of nominees, which was acted upon by Mrs. Arroyo and Mr. Justice Corona, also has “no legal existence”, and (b) Mrs. Arroyo and Mr. Justice Corona had acted without legal basis.
14. Dura lex sed lex. The law may be harsh to some, but that is the law.
15. Mr. Justice Corona’s appointment as Chief Justice is, therefore, INVALID.