President Benigno Aquino 3rd will be able to appoint two more justices to the Supreme Court (SC) before he steps down in 2016.
This is because Associate Justice Martin Villarama has yielded to the desire of Malacañang that he step down before his retirement in April 2016.
The Manila Times earlier reported that the Palace is pressuring Villarama to retire early so that Aquino can appoint a new justice at the High Court. If the magistrate will insist on retiring on April 16, 2016 when he reaches the mandatory retirement age of 70, the President will not be able to name his replacement because the Constitution forbids the President from making appointments two months before a presidential election. In this scenario, whoever will be elected president on May 9, 2016 will be the one to appoint Villarama’s successor.
The President is expected to name a new SC magistrate soon because Associate Justice Roberto Abad is set to retire on May 22 this year. Abad’s successor will be Aquino’s fifth appointee to the High Court. Villarama’s replacement will be his sixth.
The President’s appointees at the SC are Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno and Justices Bienvenido Reyes, Estela Perlas-Bernabe and Marvic Leonen.
According to an unimpeachable source of The Times, Villarama has already informed his fellow justices that he will retire early.
“Nagsabi na si Jun [Villarama] sa mga justices [Jun has told the justices] that he will retire early and allow Pnoy [popular reference to the President]to appoint his replacement,” the source said, referring to Villarama by his nickname.
The source added that Villarama also told his colleagues that he will leave the high tribunal months before the election ban takes effect so that if Aquino names his replacement, the President will not be accused of making midnight appointments.
“Ang sabi ni Jun, months before the election ban he will retire. Probably January or February of 2016,” the source pointed out.
The election ban starts on March 9, 2016, two months before the national elections on May 9, 2016.
“I will allow Pnoy to appoint my replacement,” the source quoted Villarama as saying.
Another reliable source said Villarama has also told his employees that he will opt for an early retirement.
In fact, a number of Villarama’s staff are now scouting for new jobs, the source said.
The Times tried to get in touch with Villarama but he is outside the country to attend the graduation of his son Carlo.
The source theorized that Malacanang fears that if the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) will be declared unconstitutional by the SC, Aquino and some Cabinet officials will face criminal charges. Sen. Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada has claimed that DAP funds were used to bribe senators to convict then-Chief Justice Renato Corona.
“It [appointment of SC justices]will be for the longer lasting protection of Pnoy. Takot kasi ang Malacanang once DAP will be declared as unconstitutional,” the source said.