PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino 3rd on Wednesday appointed Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza as an associate justice of the Supreme Court, beating the constitutional deadline for the President to fill up a vacancy at the court.
Jardeleza’s appointment came exactly a day after the Supreme Court granted his petition for mandamus contesting his exclusion from the shortlist submitted by the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) to the President.
Jardeleza fills the vacancy left by retired Associate Justice Roberto Abad.
In a news briefing, Malacanang spokesman Edwin Lacierda said Jardeleza was the President’s choice for being “the right person for the job.”
“Whether the Supreme Court accepted the petition [for mandamus]or ruled the petition one way or the other, there would have been an appointment by today. It just so happens that the President felt that the right person for the job is Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza,” Lacierda told reporters.
Earlier in the day, Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. announced the transmittal of Jardeleza’s papers to the Supreme Court.
Lacierda said the President has worked closely with the Solicitor General, the lawyer for the government.
“And, on the basis of his work and competence as Solicitor General, that was one, one of the reasons why he chose Solicitor General Jardeleza. He is qualified, credentials-wise, academic-wise, he is qualified. As a practicing lawyer, he is also very well qualified. So in his work as Ombudsman and in his work as Solicitor General-Deputy Ombudsman-and in his work as Solicitor General, Francis Jardeleza has shown the integrity, the competence required of the position that he has, of the position that he has assumed in the previous work experience,” the Palace spokesman said.
But critics questioned the timing of Jardeleza’s appointment, as he was in the thick of defending the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) at the High Court, which has declared parts of the program “unconstitutional.”
“So Jardeleza’s independence would naturally be questionable. As the chief government lawyer, he vigorously defended [DAP] and the EDCA (Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement). These two petitions remain pending before the SC,” said Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) Secretary General Renato Reyes Jr.
“It seems the Jardeleza appointment is still in line with Aquino’s war with the SC in the aftermath of the DAP ruling. We fear for the implications of his appointment in the pending DAP petition now that there is a pending government MR [motion for reconsideration],” Reyes added.
Political analyst Ramon Casiple said it was obvious that Jardeleza was Aquino’s first and only choice from the start because his appointment was done after he was cleared for inclusion in the JBC shortlist.
“He has specific instructions on the President’s wishes. He is expected to argue for the Palace position,” Casiple added.
The JBC dropped Jardeleza from the shortlist after he left out Itu Aba island in the government’s pleadings submitted to the International Tribunal on the Laws of the Sea (Itlos). But following the issues raised by the JBC that dampened Jardeleza’s chances at the SC, Itu Aba was finally included in the memorial submitted to the Itlos.
Lacierda said the court itself felt that Jardeleza should be shortlisted.
“So the Supreme Court having made the decision, his name was also submitted to the President for the shortlist,” he added.
Lacierda said that had the court decided against Jardeleza’s inclusion in the shortlist, President Aquino would have appointed someone else.
He also belied insinuations that Malacanang pressured the Supreme Court and the JBC into including Jardeleza in the final list of nominees.
“We did not exert any pressure on, especially on the JBC. As you see, the JBC excluded the name of Solicitor General Jardeleza. And I suppose the Supreme Court had to make a decision on that point because they were also very well aware of the deadline, which was a day after the en banc decision. So they made a decision based on the appreciation of the petition of the Solicitor General, as well as the comments submitted by the JBC,” Lacierda said.
An official of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) turned his ire on the JBC for including Jardeleza in the shortlist of nominees.
Fr. Edwin Gariguez, CBCP’s executive director, said the decision of the judiciary to grant the petition for mandamus of Jardeleza was the “height of mockery of the SC.”
Jardeleza’s appointment “is a despicable decision by the JBC,” Gariguez added.
He pointed out that Jardeleza was a former lawyer of Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco Jr. and was known to have represented Cojuangco in the coconut levy scam.
With a vote of 7-4, the Supreme Court has granted the petition for certiorari and mandamus filed by Jardeleza challenging his exclusion for the vacancy in the High Court.
The decision was approved despite the opposition of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.
Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio also inhibited from the case.
WITH A REPORT FROM ROBERTZON F. RAMIREZ