MANILA, MARCH 17, 2010
(STAR) By Edu Punay - The Supreme Court deferred ruling yesterday on the issue on whether President Arroyo is allowed under the law to name the successor of retiring Chief Justice Reynato Puno.

But Court Administrator and spokesman Jose Midas Marquez said the magistrates are scheduled to hold a special full court session at 9 a.m. today to decide on the consolidated petitions seeking to grant Mrs. Arroyo such authority.

Puno, who retires on May 17, will preside over the session but is expected to inhibit from the case, Marquez said.

An SC insider told The STAR that the majority of the 15 justices are expected to vote in favor of the petitions of the Philippine Constitution Association (Philconsa) and lawyers Arturo de Castro and Estelito Mendoza. The SC decided to hold off its ruling on the petitions yesterday as some justices were not yet ready with their positions, court insiders said.

The petitioners want the SC to compel the Judicial and Bar Council to submit a shortlist of candidates for the top SC post to President Arroyo and declare that she is allowed by the Constitution to appoint the next chief justice.

The petitioners said the ban on appointments under Section 15 Article VII does not cover the top SC post.

The Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP), the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) and Philippine Bar Association (PBA) are contesting the president’s authority to name Puno’s successor.

The Office of Solicitor General (OSG), for its part, insisted that President Arroyo is constitutionally allowed to appoint the successor of Puno and that the JBC has no authority to defer its submission of a shortlist of candidates to the President.

Solicitor General Alberto Agra argued that the election ban on midnight appointments under Section 15, Article VII of the Constitution does not cover the chief justice post based on “mathematics” and on the “deliberation of framers of the Charter.”

Agra explained that the appointment ban, which lasts from 109 to 115 days in regular elections, is longer than the 90-day period within which an SC justice must be appointed under Section 4, Article VII.

“If the midnight appointments ban were to be applied to appointments in the Supreme Court, at least 19 occasions may be conceived where the President will never be able to comply with her constitutional duty of filling up a vacancy in the Supreme Court,” Agra said.

“Surely, the framers of the 1987 Constitution, in deciding these dates and periods, could not have meant or intended to allow such an absurd situation to happen,” he stressed.

He added that framers of the Charter “made no mention or reference to the midnight appointments ban or its effects on such period (for appointment of Supreme Court justices), and vice versa.”

He said they had even extended the mandatory period of appointments from 60 to 90 days, “oblivious to the midnight appointments ban or period covered by it.”

The OSG chief stressed that the framers of the Charter could have expressly stated that the ban covers appointments in the judiciary - especially since they had included restrictions or limitations on the President’s power to appoint members of the SC to ensure independence.

And assuming that the judiciary is covered by the appointment ban during the polls, the OSG argued that there are compelling reasons to exempt the chief justice post from the ban.

The OSG stressed that the SC acts as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET), which is “sole judge of all contests relating to the election, returns, and qualifications of the president and vice president.”

The OSG said recent history has shown that there is no vacancy in the post that has lasted for more than a day.

JBC can’t hold shortlist

The OSG said the JBC should be compelled to submit its shortlist of candidates to the President as a ministerial act.

It argued that the Constitution has not conferred legislative or judicial powers on the JBC to allow it to withhold the release of a shortlist.

But the SC cannot compel the JBC to exclude the names of nominees who have accepted their nominations on certain conditions, the OSG said.

The JBC has opted to await an SC ruling on the consolidated petitions before it decides when to submit a shortlist of nominees to the Palace.

The JBC has moved to the next stage of the selection process, which includes public interviews of candidates or getting advice from legal luminaries.

The candidates for the top SC post are Senior Associate Justices Antonio Carpio and Renato Corona; Associate Justices Conchita Carpio-Morales, Arturo Brion and Teresita Leonardo-De Castro; and Sandiganbayan Acting Presiding Justice Edilberto Sandoval.

The issue on the appointment of Puno’s successor has triggered legal and political debates as it is the first time under the 1987 Constitution that the retirement of a chief justice falls on a period covered by election ban on appointments.


STAR (Xinhua) - Government troops in southern Philippine province of Sulu were ordered to enhance attacks on dwindling al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf and its Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) cohorts in the next two months.

Philippine new Armed Forces Chief of Staff General Delfin Bangit issued the order during a visit to Jolo, capital of Sulu province, following assessment on the recent offensive against the militant group, which is deemed as being responsible for a number of deadly bombings and kidnappings.

"We should not relax, we should keep the pressure and finally give them a military coup d'grace," Bangit said.

Bangit spoke highly of the death of Abu Sayyaf leader Albader Parad and six others ranking militants who were killed in the assault launched by the Task Force Comet in Mt. Tukay, Indanan town, on Feb. 21.

Bangit vowed to keep on improving the capability of the troops in the region in terms of equipment and health services.

The 380-strong Abu Sayyaf group, founded in the early 1990s by Islamic extremists, is notorious for kidnappings, bombings and even beheadings in the South over the past decade.


Al-Qaeda calls on US Muslims to attack America ( Updated March 08, 2010 02:00 AM

CAIRO (AP) – Al-Qaeda's American-born spokesman on yesterday called on Muslims serving in the US armed forces to emulate the Army major charged with killing 13 people in Fort Hood.

In a 25-minute video posted on militant Web sites, Adam Gadahn described Maj. Nidal Hasan as a pioneer who should serve as a role model for other Muslims, especially those serving Western militaries.

"Brother Nidal is the ideal role-model for every repentant Muslim in the armies of the unbelievers and apostate regimes," he said.

Gadahn, also known as Azzam al-Amriki, was dressed in white robes and wearing a white turban as he called for attacks on what he described as "high-value targets."

Gadahn grew up on a goat farm in Riverside County, California, and converted to Islam at a mosque in nearby Orange County. "You shouldn't make the mistake of thinking that military bases are the only high-value targets in America and the West. On the contrary, there are countless other strategic places, institutions and installations which, by striking, the Muslim can do major damage," he said, an assault rifle leaning up against a wall next to him.

Gadahn has been wanted by the FBI since 2004 and two years later was charged with treason. There is a $1 million reward for information leading to his arrest or conviction.

He has in the past posted videos and messages calling for the destruction of the West and for strikes against targets in the United States. His location is unknown, but he is believed to be somewhere along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Hasan has been charged in the Nov. 5 shooting that killed 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas. The 39-year-old Army psychiatrist remains paralyzed from the chest down after being shot by two civilian members of Fort Hood's police force.

"Nidal Hasan is a pioneer, a trailblazer and a role-model who has opened a door, lit a path and shown the way forward for every Muslim who finds himself among the unbelievers," Gadahn said.

In the latest video, Gadahn said those planning attacks did not need to use only firearms like Hasan, but could use other weapons. "As the blessed operations of September 11th showed, a little imagination and planning and a limited budget can turn almost anything into a deadly, effective and convenient weapon."

Gadahn said fighters should target mass transportation systems in the West and also wreak havoc "by killing or capturing people in government, industry and the media."

He recommended finding ways to shake "consumer confidence and stifle spending" and noted that even unsuccessful attacks, such as the failed attempt to bomb a US airliner on Christmas Day, can bring major cities to a halt.

"I am calling on every honest and vigilant Muslim in the countries of the Zionist-Crusader alliance in general and America, Britain and Israel in particular to prepare to play his due role in responding to and repelling the aggression of the enemies of Islam," Gadahn said.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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