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191002 March 17, 2010
ARTURO M. DE CASTRO et. al, Petitioner, vs. JUDICIAL AND BAR COUNCIL (JBC) and PRESIDENT GLORIA MACAPAGAL ARROYO et. Al., Respondents. Facts: Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno had his compulsory retirement on May 17, 2010, seven days after the coming Presidential Elections on May 10, 2010. Under Section 4(1), in relation to Section 9, Article VIII, that "vacancy shall be filled within ninety days from the occurrence thereof" from a "list of at least three nominees prepared by the Judicial and Bar Council for every vacancy." The provision above is in conflict with Section 15, Article VII (Executive Department), which provides that 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. All the petitions now before the Court pose as the principal legal question whether the incumbent President can appoint the successor of Chief Justice Puno upon his retirement. The JBC, in its en banc meeting of January 18, 2010, unanimously agreed to start the process of filling up the position of Chief Justice to be vacated on May 17, 2010 upon the retirement of the incumbent Chief Justice Honorable Reynato S. Puno. The announcement was published on January 20, 2010 in the Philippine Daily Inquirer and The Philippine Star. On February 8, 2010, the JBC resolved to proceed to the next step of announcing the names of the following candidates to invite the public to file their sworn complaint, written report, or opposition, if any, not later than February 22, 2010, to wit: Associate Justice Carpio, Associate Justice Corona, Associate Justice Carpio Morales, Associate Justice Leonardo-De Castro, Associate Justice Brion, and Associate Justice Sandoval. The announcement came out in the Philippine Daily Inquirer and The Philippine Star issues of February 13, 2010. Issue: Whether or not Section 15, Article VII apply to appointments in the Supreme Court or to the Judiciary. Ruling: No. Prohibition under Section 15, Article VII does not apply to appointments to fill a vacancy in the Supreme Court or to other appointments to the Judiciary The Constitutional Commission confined the prohibition to appointments made in the Executive Department. The framers did not need to extend the prohibition to appointments in the Judiciary, because their establishment of the JBC and their subjecting the nomination and screening of candidates for judicial positions to the unhurried and deliberate prior process of the JBC ensured that there would no longer be midnight appointments to the Judiciary. Section 4(1) and Section 9, Article VIII, mandate the President to fill the vacancy in the Supreme Court within 90 days from the occurrence of the vacancy, and within 90 days from the submission of the list, in the case of the lower courts. The 90-day period is directed at the President, not at the JBC. Thus, the JBC should start the process of selecting the candidates to fill the vacancy in the Supreme Court before the occurrence of the vacancy. Under the Constitution, it is mandatory for the JBC to submit to the President the list of nominees to fill a vacancy in the Supreme Court in order to enable the President to appoint one of them within the 90-day period from the occurrence of the vacancy. The JBC has no discretion to submit the list to the President after the vacancy occurs, because that shortens the 90-day period allowed by the Constitution for the President to make the appointment. For the JBC to do so will be unconscionable on its part, considering that it will thereby effectively and illegally deprive the President of the ample time granted under the Constitution to reflect on the qualifications of the nominees named in the list of the JBC before making the appointment.