Malacañang is allegedly pressuring a Supreme Court (SC) justice to leave the tribunal two years earlier than his mandatory retirement to allow President Benigno Aquino 3rd to appoint more of his judicial allies to the Court before he leaves office.
According to an unimpeachable source of The Manila Times in the High Court, Associate Justice Martin Villarama Jr. is being forced to retire so that Aquino could have six appointees at the SC when he steps down.
Villarama is expected to retire on April 14, 2016 when he reaches 70, the mandatory retirement age.
The source said if Villarama leaves now, the President can appoint his replacement immediately. If Villarama retires in 2016, Aquino cannot name his replacement because of the constitutional ban on appointments two months before a presidential election.
The ban is explicit in Article VII of the 1987 Constitution, Section 15: “Two months immediately before the next presidential elections and up to the end of his term, a President or Acting President shall not make appointments, except temporary appointments to executive positions when continued vacancies therein will prejudice public service or endanger public safety.”
The presidential elections will be on May 9, 2016. The ban takes effect March 9, 2016.
The source said Malacañang probably wants Villarama to step down now for Aquino to escape a similar situation when former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo appointed former Justice Renato Corona as Chief Justice.
Aquino was very vocal against Corona’s appointment.
The President has four appointees in the SC—Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Aranal-Sereno, Justice Bienvenido Reyes, Justice Estela Perlas-Bernabe and Justice Marvic Leonen.
Aquino is expected to make his fifth appointment when Associate Justice Roberto Abad steps down. Abad is expected to retire on May 22 this year.
If Villarama yields to the Palace pressure and retires early, it will result in the naming by Aquino of his 6th appointee in the High Court.
Villarama served the Pasig Regional Trial Court and the Court of Appeals (CA) for over a decade until he was appointed on November 3, 2009 as the 166th member of the High Court.
Among the Aquino allies vying for the post to be vacated by Abad are Commission on Audit (COA) Chairman Maria Gracia Pulido-Tan and Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza.
The other applicants are CA Presiding Justice Andres Reyes Jr.; CA Justices Rosmari Carandang, Jose Reyes Jr., Noel Tijam, Apolinario Bruselas, Stephen Cruz, Ramon Paul Hernando and Nina Antonio-Valenzuela; and Sandiganbayan Justices Rafael Lagos and Cristina Cornejo. Regional Trial Court Judge Reynaldo Daway also applied for the position, as well as Dean Jose Manuel Diokno and COA Commissioner Rowena Guanzon.
Another SC source told The Times one of the Malacañang boys who had been in close contact with Villarama is Ronald Llamas, former Presidential Adviser on Political Affairs.
Llamas, according to the source, rents one of Villarama’s apartments.
He had been caught buying pirated DVDs and keeping ammunition in his car when he was an Aquino adviser.
Llamas is a known shooting buddy of the President.