Puno: Keep off judiciary Kampi solons may back impeachment


By Norman Bordadora, Gil C. Cabacungan Jr., Christine Avendaño
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:01:00 01/12/2009

MANILA, Philippines—Chief Justice Reynato Puno wants politicians to spare the Supreme Court from partisan manipulation, the court’s spokesperson told the Philippine Daily Inquirer Sunday amid reports of a brewing threat to impeach him.

“The court and its magistrates as dispensers of justice should be shielded, if not totally excluded from political maneuverings,” lawyer Midas Marquez said in a text message that he said he sent “in behalf of the Chief Justice.”

The threat to remove Puno from his post is reportedly tied to the Supreme Court’s alleged non-promulgation of a decision disqualifying an incumbent House member despite the concurrence in mid-2008 of 14 justices.

An impeachment complaint against the Chief Justice could come from the political party of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the Kabalikat ng Malayang Pilipino (Kampi).

Kampi is set to hear out details of the disqualification case against Negros Oriental Rep. Jocelyn Limkaichong, who is accused of not being a natural-born Filipino citizen.

“We will give Jing (former Negros Oriental Rep. Jacinto Paras) the time of day in Kampi. He will transmit to the party what transpired in the case involving his wife (who was defeated by Limkaichong in 2007),” said Quezon Rep. Danilo Suarez. Both Suarez and Paras are ranking members of Kampi.

“If it is impeachable, we will support it,” Suarez said.

Justices of the Supreme Court, like the Ombudsman and top officials of the Commission on Elections, can be removed from office only through impeachment, which requires the vote of one-third of the 235-member House of Representatives. Once approved by the House, the articles of impeachment go to the Senate for trial.

Charter change

A retired justice said there were reports that moves were afoot to impeach Puno to pave the way for a Supreme Court that would allow Charter change (Cha-cha).

The President will appoint seven new justices to the 15-member Supreme Court to take the place of those set to retire this year, a development that will leave only Puno as the only member of the tribunal not appointed by Ms Arroyo.

Allies of Ms Arroyo in the House, especially Kampi stalwarts like the President’s son Rep. Juan Miguel Arroyo, are pushing for Cha-cha through a constitutional assembly (Con-Ass) in which Congress votes as one body and not as two separate chambers.

Kampi’s claim that Congress could vote as one body on Cha-cha, an interpretation rejected by senators, who believe that the House and the Senate should vote separately on the issue, is expected to be elevated to the Supreme Court.

Threat real

Former Senate President Franklin Drilon Sunday said that Malacañang or its allies pushing for Cha-cha could be behind moves to oust Puno.

Drilon said Jacinto Paras did not have the clout to mount such a move all by himself. Malacañang said it had no hand in moves to oust Puno.

Sen. Francis Pangilinan, a member of the Liberal Party (LP) like Drilon, said he was told by his sources in the Supreme Court that the threat to oust Puno was “real” and “serious.”

Pangilinan said he and Bantay Korte Suprema would divulge “at a later and proper time” those behind the plot.

“We are warning those behind this move that we will not stop until they are exposed and their devious scheme defeated,” he said in a text message.

Bantay Korte Suprema is a coalition of legal luminaries from the academe, law groups and the Makati Business Club that is calling for “transparency” in the selection and appointment of seven members to the Supreme Court.

Vigilance

Pangilinan said he would take up the matter when Bantay Korte Suprema, of which he is a convenor, meets on Monday for a general assembly “and see if the legal community can come up with a united response against this latest attack on the Supreme Court and the rule of law.”

“In the meantime, we urge the greatest vigilance from the public at this time to protect the office of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court from the said attack,” he said.

Like Pangilinan, Drilon said he heard from “legal circles” more than a week ago that there would be an impeachment case to be filed against Puno.

Drilon, LP chair and former justice secretary, said Paras, whose wife may benefit from the promulgation of the supposed high court resolution, “doesn’t have the clout to be able to mount a credible impeachment complaint against the Chief Justice.”

“Only Malacañang has that clout and it fits perfectly into their plans on the consultative assembly (Con-ass),” he said.

Part of grand scheme

Saying the ouster move was “part of a grand scheme,” Drilon said the Palace saw the opportunity to “keep (Puno) off balance because of the expectation he will not toe the line insofar as Charter change is concerned.”

Drilon said “reliable sources” told him the Palace would push for Cha-cha by getting first the House to get the signatures of 197 lawmakers to propose amendments to the 1987 Constitution “to precipitate a case in the Supreme Court on the issue of joint or separate voting of Congress.”

“That is why the Supreme Court becomes a critical judge in the next 12 to 18 months because they will determine the political history of the country,” he said.

Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Satur Ocampo said an impeachment case against Puno would be a serious blow to the independence of the three branches of government and the separation of powers between the executive and the judiciary.

But Ocampo said he didn’t think Malacañang would succeed in a venture tied to Cha-cha because strong public opinion would frustrate it.

Playing with fire

Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay, president of the United Opposition, said administration allies would be “playing with fire” if they pushed through with removing Puno to extend the term of Ms Arroyo, who is set to step down in 2010.

Those conniving to impeach Puno were in “big trouble” if they unseated someone “beyond reproach in his value system and conduct,” said Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Oscar Cruz.

In a statement, Cruz said: “Filipinos are, by and large, patient and forgiving. But even long sleeping volcanoes can and do erupt. This is a fair warning.”

The Supreme Court spokesperson said the ouster move “is really totally baseless and achieves nothing but the degradation of the integrity of the court.”

“So fundamental is the societal value that the integrity and orderly functioning of the administration of justice should be maintained at all times,” Marquez said in his text message. With reports from Allison W. Lopez in Manila and Yolanda Sotelo, Inquirer Northern Luzon

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