BILL SEEKS TO CLIP PRESIDENT'S POWER TO APPOINT JUSTICES
PAMPANGA, MARCH 29, 2008 (STAR) By Jess Diaz - Opposition Rep. Roilo Golez of Parañaque proposed yesterday that the Supreme Court and the rest of the judiciary be insulated from Malacañang and politicians to make justices and judges truly independent.
He made the proposal in the wake of widespread criticism that the tribunal’s ruling favoring Commission on Higher Education Chairman Romulo Neri’s invocation of executive privilege in the Senate on issues involving the controversial national broadband network deal continues to attract.
Nine members of the court, including newly appointed Justice Arturo Brion, the former labor secretary who did not hear oral arguments on the case, voted to uphold Neri’s decision not to answer questions about his conversation with President Arroyo on the deal.
Six members led by Chief Justice Reynato Puno voted to compel Neri to answer the senators’ questions about such conversation.
Golez said he would file a resolution to amend two sections of Article VIII (Judiciary) of the Constitution to remove the power to appoint justices and judges of lower courts from the President.
He said such power should be transferred to the Supreme Court sitting en banc.
He wants to keep the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) which screens nominees to vacancies in the judiciary.
However, he suggested that JBC members be appointed by the SC, sitting en banc, instead of by the President.
He is also proposing that the secretary of justice and a representative of Congress be removed as ex-officio JBC members.
“This will make the Supreme Court and the rest of the judiciary self-perpetuating and truly independent. The selection and appointment process will be devoid of any presidential and political interference. The process, being en banc, will be collegial and balanced, not dictated by a single person,” Golez stressed.
He recommended a possible disqualification for nominees to the judiciary: No person can be appointed justice or judge if he has held a presidential appointment, Cabinet or sub-Cabinet, or has held any elective office, from mayor to president.
“This will prevent any speculation that there is a bias or prejudgment on the part of members of the judiciary, such as what is happening now with respect to members of the Supreme Court who served the President in a senior capacity or who held political positions.
Brion is the most recent appointee who served in President Arroyo’s Cabinet. He was appointed just days before the high court voted on the executive privilege issue. He obstinately refused to inhibit himself from voting despite repeated appeals from various sectors.
Another justice, Eduardo Nachura, served as Mrs. Arroyo’s chief presidential legal counsel. He is also a former congressman. He voted with the majority on Neri’s case.
Golez also urged the Supreme Court to prescribe a code of conduct for its members and justices and judges of lower courts.
He said justices and judges should have a “modicum of social aloofness to prevent too much fraternizing with members of society, each of whom is a potential respondent, appellant or officer appearing in their courts.”
Appeals for inhibition on the Neri case were addressed not only to Brion but to Justice Presbitero Velasco as well. Velasco was described as a “golfing buddy” of petitioner Neri, though he admitted playing with him at the exclusive Wack Wack Golf Club in Mandaluyong City only once or twice.
Inhibition appeals were also addressed to Justice Renato Corona, another former presidential legal counsel, whose wife sits in the boards of two state corporations and is a staunch supporter of Mrs. Arroyo who signed a manifesto of support published in national newspapers.
Golez’s proposed amendments to the Constitution will be contained in a resolution in compliance with the rules of the House of Representatives, under which such proposals can be introduced and will go through the normal process of legislation.
If the House approves the proposals, they will then be sent to the Senate.
Approved amendments will then be submitted to the people in a plebiscite.
GMA TO SPEND SUMMER LAUNCHING INFRA PROJECTS
President Arroyo said she will be busy spending the summer inaugurating infrastructure projects all over the country that would enable the faster delivery of basic services to the people and attract more investments.
Mrs. Arroyo issued the statement after leading the soft opening of the Stage II, Phase 1 of the Southern Tagalog Arterial Road (STAR) in Batangas last Wednesday.
She led the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the road section and then waved the green flag to signal the start of the convoy that ran through the 19.74 kilometer stretch from the Tambo interchange in Lipa City to the Balagtas interchange in Batangas City.
“My summer plans are to crisscross the archipelago and to inaugurate like what we are doing now, and inspect infrastructure projects because the presidency is an outdoor activity,” she said.
She told reporters: “And if you want to cover me, brings lots of sunblock.”
She said the government is now able to undertake major construction projects due to its favorable fiscal position owing to tax reforms three years ago.
Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya Jr. said the government has allocated an additional P200 billion in this year’s P1.227 trillion national budget for infrastructure projects.
He said government is taking advantage of the good weather during the summer, adding that some of the projects are meant to protect communities and agricultural areas from typhoons.
Presidential Management Staff chief Cerge Remonde, who also chairs the Palace’s Infrastructure Pro-Performance Steering Committee, earlier said the government was expected to complete the construction, rehabilitation and expansion this year of priority infrastructure projects worth over P61 billion. – Paolo Romero
Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi
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