(STAR) Malacañang rebuked yesterday Buluan Vice Mayor Esmael Mangudadatu for blaming President Arroyo for the violence sown by the Ampatuans when he testified in court on Wednesday.

Speaking on radio, Cabinet Secretary Silvestre Bello III said he does not know why Mangudadatu is blaming Mrs. Arroyo for the actions of the Ampatuans.

“It is not right to blame the President. The President had nothing to do with this political rivalry that started from both parties,” he said.

“The violence in Maguindanao was caused by a feud between two families, some of whose members are related to each other.”

Mrs. Arroyo kept out of their family feud because both parties were administration allies at the time, Bello said.

In a telephone interview, presidential adviser for political affairs Prospero Pichay admitted Mangudadatu’s allegations that he had tried to dissuade him from running for governor of Maguindanao.

“Of course, I was chairman of the (Lakas-Kampi-CMD) arbitration committee, and we followed the equity of the incumbent rule, so he cannot be endorsed at that time,” he said.

On the other hand, deputy presidential spokesman Gary Olivar said former defense secretary Gilbert Teodoro Jr. could have warned Mangudadatu based on the history of violence in Maguindanao that has always included bloody clan wars.

“These things begin with stories: ‘That person is violent when drunk, that person is trigger-happy, that person beats up his wife etc.,’” he said.

“So these kinds of notional evidence that may not necessarily be linked to specific law-breaking incidents could have been the basis of the warnings given by former secretary Teodoro.”

Mangudadatus seek more bodyguards

Vice Mayor Mangudadatu and his brother Troy Khadafeeh asked the Commission on Elections (Comelec) yesterday to assign more bodyguards to them.

Comelec Commissioner Lucenito Tagle said more than two bodyguards could be detailed for each of the nine members of the Mangudadatu clan who are running for elective posts.

“Considering the special circumstance involved in the request, we will see if it can be granted for two more additional security personnel,” he said.

“We will consider these threats in assessing whether we will grant you additional security detail.”

Tagle, Comelec Committee on the Ban of Firearms and Security Personnel head, said they will study the request of the Mangudadatus because the so-called Maguindanao massacre might be considered a “special circumstance.”

The Comelec will ask the police and the military to conduct threat assessment on the Mangudadatus, he added.

Search for Maguindanao governor starts

Interior Undersecretary Marius Corpus has announced that a search committee has begun screening the nominees for governor, vice governor and 10 provincial board members of Maguindanao.

Those who will be appointed in February shall serve until June 30 this year.

Speaking to reporters, Corpus said the search committee headed by Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Interior Secretary Haroun Al-Rashid Lucman Jr. is now carefully evaluating the qualifications of some 27 nominees.

“Among the requirements of the search committee in selecting the acting Maguindanao governor is that he or she should not be running for any elective position in the coming May elections; has the capacity to govern and ability to effect reforms in the province,” he said.

The seven-man search committee is comprised of the Regional Legislative Assembly members from Sulu, Basilan, Tawi-Tawi, Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao and the mayors of Lamitan City and Marawi City.

ARMM Executive Secretary Naguib Sinarimbo said the committee will ensure that the acting Maguindanao governor shall have been named within the period allowed for the filling of positions under the rules promulgated by the Comelec.

Once the acting governor shall have been named, Vice Gov. Nariman Ambolodto shall relinquish her post, he added.

Ambolodto was named acting governor of Maguindanao last December to avoid a vacuum in governance following the Nov. 23 massacre that claimed the lives of 57 people, including journalists, in the province.

Andal Ampatuan Sr., one of those accused of being involved in the mass killing, was the governor of Maguindanao.

Corpus lauded the ARMM Regional Government headed by Acting Gov. Ansaruddin Adiong for instituting measures aimed at returning to normalcy and making governance effective in the provinces and local government units in the region. – Paolo Romero, Cecille Suerte Felipe, Sheila Crisostomo

Palace gives weight to Carpio opinion, but... By Paolo Romero (The Philippine Star) Updated January 29, 2010 12:00 AM

MANILA, Philippines - While President Arroyo would give some weight to the position taken by two senior Supreme Court associate justices who would want to be appointed as the new chief justice by the incoming president, she would still appoint the country’s chief magistrate once the post becomes vacant upon the retirement of Chief Justice Reynato Puno on May 17, her spokesman said yesterday.

Deputy presidential spokesman Gary Olivar was reacting to the separate statements of Associate Justices Antonio Carpio and Conchita Carpio-Herrera that they are accepting the nominations for them to succeed Puno but they want to be appointed by the next president.

Olivar said Carpio was entitled to his own “judicial view” and that he would like to think that his position “does not reflect any personal animosity on his part towards the President but rather his own considered opinion” based on his interpretation of the law.

“Of course we have a different view. Once the deadline lapses and the JBC has not submitted any shortlist, the President reserves her right to make her decision about what to do at that point because there are also many other legal opinions sent to the President on this issue,” he said, even as he warned against the expected move of some administration critics to use the statements of Carpio and Herrera to hit the President.

“What the justices say is not the stuff of campaign politics but when they are picked by those engaged in politicking, that’s a different matter,” Olivar said.

He, however, stressed Mrs. Arroyo is giving weight to the opinions of the two SC magistrates even as she continues to be receptive to the views of other legal luminaries that she can appoint the new chief justice as her presidency winds down.

“The President will consider all views and decides on what she considers in the national interest as well as constitutional and judicial considerations,” Olivar said.

He pointed out that Carpio’s statements only showed that members of the Supreme Court remain independent even if many of them were Mrs. Arroyo’s appointees, and run counter to claims of her critics that the coming appointment was for her own political agenda.

He said he believes the President would follow tradition and choose from the top three senior associate justices but he could not say for sure.

“Provided the list is made available to her in time by the JBC to make her selection simply from within that list. Obviously seniority counts for something but from what I know, the requirement is she would pick from the list,” he said, maintaining the Palace position that Mrs. Arroyo is prepared to name Puno’s successor even if the JBC fails to submit a shortlist to ensure there would be no vacuum in the SC.

When asked whether Carpio could be among those considered by the President, he said: “I believe he accepted the nomination. If he is really the most senior sitting justice I would be surprised if he is not in the list.”

Very unlikely

But a senior member of the House of Representatives yesterday twitted Carpio, saying the magistrate knew very well that President Arroyo will not appoint him to the Supreme Court helm when Puno retires on May 17.

“He knows the President will proceed in naming the next chief justice and it would probably not be him but Justice (Renato) Corona or somebody else, especially after he gave such unsavory statement,” Quezon Rep. Danilo Suarez said.

Carpio, the most senior justice after Puno, informed the Judicial and Bar Council - the screening committee of the judiciary headed by the SC chief - that he welcomes the nomination, but on the condition that the next president would appoint him.

Mrs. Arroyo and Carpio, whose law partner is Pancho Villaraza (both founders of the law firm popularly known as “The Firm”), had a falling out in 2006, when then Defense Secretary Avelino Cruz resigned from the Cabinet.

Cruz is a senior associate of Carpio’s law firm, along with former Ombudsman Simeon Marcelo, who resigned from the independent body in November 2005 for health reasons.

The Palace, through Secretary to the Cabinet Silvestre Bello III, claimed Mrs. Arroyo can appoint the next SC chief after Puno retires, an opinion that was not shared by constitutionalist Fr. Joaquin Bernas, who invoked the constitutional ban on presidential appointments starting March.

Sources disclosed that the President does not want to appoint the 60-year-old Carpio, who will outlive the six-year term of the next president, because he will retire at the age of 70 on Oct. 26, 2020.

It is an open secret that Carpio dislikes the First Family.

Other insiders revealed that 61-year-old Corona has the advantage, especially since, just like Carpio, he will also outlive the next president’s tenure, since his mandatory retirement would come on Oct. 15, 2019. He is the second most senior jurist after Carpio.

Both Carpio and Corona served under Mrs. Arroyo in the initial stage of her administration. The successor of the Chief Executive, whoever he may be, will serve for six years, from June 30, 2010 until June 2016.

By tradition, the President appoints the most senior associate justice. But Mrs. Arroyo had earlier diverted from this, when she appointed Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban, even if Puno was the most senior. Puno nevertheless succeeded Panganiban.

It may not be far-fetched if Mrs. Arroyo does it again, considering that she is now an outgoing Chief Executive who may face numerous charges after stepping down on June 30.

JBC holds key

Meantime, Suarez, chairman of the House committee on oversight, argued that it would be up to the JBC to decide to whom it will submit the shortlist of nominees for the post of chief justice.

“I don’t think the JBC will proceed with the selection process if it does not think President Arroyo has the authority to appoint Puno’s successor. The mere action by the JBC to start preparing the shortlist and eventually submit the same to the President are an indication that she may not be violating any law,” he pointed out.

The senior administration lawmaker said ethical questions may be raised regarding Mrs. Arroyo’s plan to appoint the next chief justice, but she could not be blamed for following what she believes is legal.

“It may be unethical but it’s legal and you cannot blame the President for that,” he said.

Ultimately, it will be the SC - all 15 justices are Arroyo appointees - who will either uphold or invalidate the President’s appointment of Puno’s successor.

SC administrator and spokesman Jose Midas Marquez said that the conditional acceptance of automatic nomination by Carpio and Carpio-Morales will be on the agenda of JBC on Monday.

“These will be included in the agenda of the JBC. Their views will be considered by the JBC meeting this Monday, along with opinions from other legal luminaries that were already reported in the media,” he explained.

Marquez explained that the JBC welcomes the position of Justices Carpio and Morales on the constitutional issues hounding the proposed appointment of Puno’s successor by Mrs. Arroyo.

The SC official, however, stressed that he does not want to speculate as to how the JBC would interpret the stand of the two candidates for the post - whether they would take it as acceptance of nomination or outright refusal since the proposed appointment is under the current administration.

“It’s too early to say. I don’t want to speculate,” he said.

But Marquez explained that there is nothing wrong in the move of the two justices to submit their position to the JBC since it is within their discretion.

The two other magistrates who get automatic nomination for the post - Associate Justices Presbitero Velasco Jr. and Antonio Eduardo Nachura - had already declined.

This leaves one more senior magistrate, Associate Justice Renato Corona, the second most senior in the SC after Puno’s retirement, left to manifest whether he is interested in the position or not. He has until Feb. 4 to do so.

No outsider from the SC has submitted application for the post, according to Marquez.

In the past, the chief justice is usually chosen from “among the insiders” or sitting senior justices of the Court.

The JBC last week moved to start the nomination process for the imminent vacancy at the top of the country’s judiciary pending resolution of the issues of when it can submit the shortlist to the Palace and whether or not the President can appoint the replacement of Puno under current rules.

Last Wednesday, the JBC officially opened the process for the selection of the successor of Chief Justice Puno and announced that it is accepting applications or nominations for the next head of the country’s judiciary.

The JBC is set to meet again today to discuss the issue on whether or not it is allowed under the law to submit the shortlist to the Palace.

The body had earlier sought views and opinions from legal experts.

Fr. Joaquin Bernas, a noted constitutionalist and one of the writers of the present Charter, has already said Mrs. Arroyo cannot appoint the next chief justice without violating the Constitution - Delon Porcalla, Edu Punay

Comelec junks another disqualification case vs GMA By Sheila Crisostomo (The Philippine Star) Updated January 29, 2010 12:00 AM

MANILA, Philippines - The Second Division of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) junked yesterday for lack of merit another disqualification case filed against President Arroyo, who is running for a seat in the House of Representatives.

Comelec’s Second Division composed of Commissioners Nicodemo Ferrer, Lucenito Tagle and Elias Yusoph issued a resolution that said the arguments of petitioner Akbayan Rep. Risa Hontiveros that Mrs. Arroyo was not eligible to run for congresswoman of the Second District of Pampanga had no basis.

Hontiveros claimed that under the Constitution, the president is not allowed to run for any position in the government and that her candidacy in Pampanga violates the equal protection clause of the Charter.

But the commissioners ruled that Mrs. Arroyo could run for any position except president.

“If it is the intention of the Constitutional Commission to ban the president from running for any future elective position, it could have so worded the pertinent constitutional provision in an unequivocal manner,” they added.

They maintained that the Constitution could have stated that the president shall not be eligible for any re-election to the same position and for election to any other elective position.

“Unfortunately, however, the said applicable constitutional provision was not so worded. The constitutional prohibition cited by the petitioner is so clearly and unequivocally worded that we do not see any call for us to resort to interpretation or statutory construction,” the six-page resolution stated.

On the equal protection clause, the Comelec ruled that Hontiveros “cited no particular law or jurisprudence that would prohibit herein respondent from running for another position in the government.”

Hontiveros said that with the decision, the Comelec had failed to fulfill its constitutional duty to make elections fair to all.

“How can the contest be fair if one of the candidates has command over all resources and the entire machinery of the government,” she added.

Hontiveros is no longer planning to file a motion for reconsideration with the Comelec. Instead, she will file an appeal with the Supreme Court “since the issue is of transcendental importance.”

Mrs. Arroyo’s lawyer Romulo Macalintal said they were really expecting a favorable ruling from the Comelec.

Macalintal said there is no provision in the Constitution and in any existing election law that prohibits his client from seeking a congressional seat in Pampanga.

“Why don’t they complain against senators who are running for president? They also have an office that can be used in campaigning,” he added.

Hontiveros’ petition is the second disqualification case junked by the Second Division. The first was filed by disqualified presidential bet Elly Pamatong.

The third and last disqualification case against Arroyo was filed by Andy Rosales and it is pending before the First Division.

Malacañang was happy over the dismissal of the disqualification case against the President but expected more onslaughts from her critics as the campaign season sets in.

“Of course we are happy at the decision of the Comelec to dismiss this petition,” deputy presidential spokesman Gary Olivar told reporters. “We agree with the decision of the Comelec and we will look forward to a spirited race in the Second District of Pampanga between the President and whoever the other candidates may be.”

He said the decision removed the last legal hindrance to Mrs. Arroyo’s bid for a seat in the House.

Olivar said he hopes the decision would put the matter to rest but Mrs. Arroyo’s critics are not likely going to stop hitting her.

“We hope for the best but we are prepared for business as usual,” Olivar said. – With Paolo Romero

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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