Benigno Aquino 3rd has got to be this nation’s most unscrupulous and hypocritical President ever, one who doesn’t respect the country’s institutions, especially the judiciary.
Relegated to the inside pages of newspapers has been his last, really scandalous, moves at the twilight of his term to increase his control over the Supreme Court, a move which could even determine the eligibility of Grace Poe-Llamanzares to run for President.
In 2011, Aquino undertook an unprecedented campaign to remove the Supreme Court’s Chief Justice, Renato Corona, from office on grounds that he would be an obstacle in prosecuting his predecessor, President Arroyo. But that was just a smokescreen for his real motive: to arm-twist the Court to rule that compensation for his clan’s Hacienda Luisita would be a humongous P5 billion, instead of the P196 million which the Court had appeared to believe was fair and just.
It was, in fact, his very first appointee to the Court, Maria Lourdes Sereno, whom he would later appoint Chief Justice as Corona’s replacement, who had written the voluminous dissenting opinion – which, I surmise, was presented to the Court – that argued in detail for the Cojuangcos to be given the P5 billion compensation for their Hacienda Luisita.
Aquino’s other flimsy excuse was that Arroyo shouldn’t have appointed Corona as Chief Justice to replace Reynato Puno, who was due to retire on May 17, 2010, or seven days after the May 10 elections. Aquino claimed that since he was sure to win the presidency, he should be appointing the new Chief Justice (and the appointment of the Chief Justice is covered by a ban on any appointments to the Court made during the last two months before the election). Cases were filed in the Supreme Court on this matter.
The Court, by an overwhelming majority, threw the petition out, ruling that the two-month ban doesn’t include the appointment of a Chief Justice among the justices. It cited Section 4 of Article V, which requires the President to appoint a Chief Justice within 90 days from the retirement of the incumbent. Arroyo did, five days before Puno stepped down.
Talk of karma. As things would turn out, Aquino found himself in a roughly similar position as Arroyo was in.
Associate Justice Martin Villarama, Jr. was supposed to retire on April 14, 2016, when he reaches the mandatory retirement age of 70, or just a few weeks before the May 2016 polls.
Aquino should be stepping down June 1st, and the two-month ban before the elections prevents him from appointing Villarama’s replacement.
But then Aquino is Mr. Double Standard. What he hated and criticized Arroyo for having done – which was to appoint the Chief Justice weeks before she stepped down – he would be doing in the case of Villarama, to appoint his replacement.
However, Aquino is so much unlike Arroyo, who had declared that the Supreme Court itself should decide the matter and issue a ruling if she could or could not appoint the next Chief Justice.
According to my sources and that of our ace reporter, Jomar Canlas, who reported this way back in May 2014, Aquino, instead, got Villarama to agree to retire not in April this year when he reaches the 70 retirement age but much earlier, next week, on January 16.
Next week would be more than two months before the May elections, so that Aquino would have the authority to appoint Villarama’s replacement. In his letter to the Court, Villarama cited his “deteriorating health condition” for his early retirement.
Carrot and stick
Sources have claimed it was a carrot-and-stick approach that made Villarama retire months before reaching the retirement age, which is unprecedented in the fact that it got the other Supreme Court justices nodding their heads. That was another shameless attempt by this President to control the judiciary.
The mission of convincing Villarama to retire was allegedly given to Aquino’s political adviser (of pirated-DVD and AK-47 fame) Ronaldo Llamas. His success in doing so gained brownie points for Llamas, even as he had been identified as former President Joseph Estrada’s mole in the Palace.
Villarama’s retirement would allow Aquino to appoint his sixth Justice in the 15-man High Court, a move that would, as legal academics term it, “pack the Court.”
Aquino’s power to appoint Supreme Court justices has been alleged to be his carrot in getting judges at higher courts and the Sandiganbayan to follow his wishes. Aquino, though, has been viewed as a “double-crosser” as might well be proven by the fact his recent appointees to the court – peace negotiator Marvic Leonen and Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza did not come from the judiciary.
Among those nominated to replace Villarama is former Commission on Audit Chair Maria Grace Pulido-Tan, who had not made public the COA’s special audit on pork-barrel during Aquino’s first years in office, failing to deliver on her promise.
Other nominees are the following, who had served as judges in cases involving President Arroyo, Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada, Ramon Revilla, Jr., and other opposition politicians: Sandiganbayan Associate Justice Alex Quiroz, Court of Appeals Presiding Justice Andres Reyes Jr., Court of Appeals Associate Justices Stephen Cruz, Rosmari Carandang, Apolinario Bruselas Jr. and Mariflor Castillo, Sandiganbayan Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje Tang and Sandiganbayan Associate Justice Cristina Cornejo.
If the six Aquino-appointed Justices choose to please Aquino in crucial cases at the Supreme Court, the President would require just two more Justices to stand behind him, or for just three to inhibit themselves, or call in sick.
Villarama may have just given Aquino the power to determine whether presidential candidate Grace Poe is qualified to run for president in 2016, or whether Aquino’s most hated person in the world, former President Arroyo, finally gains her freedom soon.
Another institution damaged by this deranged President.