Supreme Court Associate Justice Martin Villarama Jr. will vacate his post ahead of his official retirement, according to a statement released by the SC’s Public Information Office.
His move would pave the way for President Benigno Aquino 3rd to have additional appointees in the High Court.
The statement, at the same time, disputed an exclusive report by this paper that Villarama was talked into early retirement by Malacañang.
Villarama himself denied that he had been forced to retire early by Malacañang.
“The alleged Palace pressure on me to retire early is absolutely not true. I have no contact whatsoever with anybody in the Palace. If I do so retire early, the Palace has absolutely nothing to do with it,” he said.
But an SC source said Ronald Llamas, former Presidential Adviser on Political Affairs, was one of the Malacañang boys who has been in close contact with Villarama, apparently to persuade him to give up his SC post.
The source added that Llamas rented one of the apartments of Villarama somewhere in Metro Manila.
Llamas is a known kabarilan (shooting buddy) of the President, a gun aficionado.
Aquino has four appointees now in the High Court—Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Aranal-Sereno, Justice Bienvenido Reyes, Justice Estela Perlas-Bernabe and Justice Marvic Leonen.
Justice Roberto Abad is expected to retire on May 22 this year, which will pave the way for Aquino’s 5th appointee in the SC.
If Villarama will step down before he reaches the mandatory retirement age of 70 in April 2016, Aquino will be able to appoint his successor. But if the magistrate does not retire early, the President can name a new SC justice because of a constitutional provision that bans appointments two months before a presidential election. The country will elect new leaders on May 9, 2016.