TIME was when we never had to ask who will administer the oath of office for an incoming President of the Republic.
It was the tradition for the incoming leader to take his oath before the chief justice of the Supreme Court, to invest the moment with appropriate solemnity and dignity, in full view of the nation and the world.
But then, on June 30, 2010, our 15th president, Benigno B.S. Aquino III, openly flouted tradition by intimating in advance of his inaugural that he would not take the oath before the sitting Chief Justice, Renato Corona. He arranged things so that Associate Justice Conchita Carpio-Morales would swear him into office instead.
With the tradition broken, everyone is now wondering who will turn up at the inaugural on June 30 to administer the oath for the 16th president of the republic, Rodrigo Roa Duterte.
Constitution provides no answer
The Constitution does not say who will do the honors. It says simply in Article VII, Section 5:
“Before they enter on the execution of their office, the President, the Vice-President, or the Acting President shall take the following oath or affirmation:
“I do solemnly swear [or affirm]that I will faithfully and conscientiously fulfill my duties as President [or Vice-President or Acting President]of the Philippines, preserve, protect and defend its Constitution, execute its laws, do justice to every man, and consecrate myself to the service of the Nation. So help me God.”
In Section 4 of the same article, the Charter states that the presidential term “[S]hall begin at noon on the thirtieth day of June following the day of the election and shall end at noon of the same date, six years thereafter.”
Absent explicit constitutional direction, we can only hope that Mr. Duterte will choose to mark his accession to office with appropriate solemnity and decorum.
Sereno’s worries and palpitations
The suspense of the Duterte inaugural is so great, Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno is reported to have experienced palpitations that have prevented her from reporting for work lately.
It is reported by The Manila Times senior reporter Jomar Canlas that CJ Sereno is suffering from stress as her protector, President Aquino, approaches the end of his term on June 30.
It was Aquino who appointed Sereno as the country’s top magistrate. He bypassed the most senior justice, Antonio Carpio, when he picked Sereno from out of nowhere to replace Corona.
The drama about who will administer the oath for Mr. Duterte could easily mutate into speculation about who will replace Sereno as chief justice under President Duterte.
There is reason for Chief Justice Sereno’s worries and palpitations.
First, Chief Justice Sereno placed a big bet on Sen. Grace Poe in the presidential election.
With the covert assistance of President Aquino, she maneuvered to have the High Court overturn the decision of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to disqualify Poe as a candidate. In an SC decision that will be argued and debated for a long time, Poe was pronounced a natural-born Filipino citizen, thereby amending the Constitution without authority.
With the failure of Poe’s presidential bid, Sereno must now face the implacable reality of Duterte’s landslide victory in the elections.
In two weeks’ time, Duterte will be sworn in as President.
Duterte could choose to be gallant by taking his oath from Sereno. Or he could pick someone else to do the honors.
Carpio at the inaugural
What if he picks Justice Antonio Carpio to administer the oath?
This is tantalizingly logical and politically sound. Carpio is the most senior justice of the High Court, perhaps even the most learned and competent. Like Duterte, Carpio hails from Davao City. His being given a role at the inaugural will fit into the rising pattern of the south getting a bigger presence in government and national administration.
Of course, being chosen to administer the oath is one thing. Naming Carpio as a possible replacement for Sereno is something else.
Sereno has boasted to SC employees that she will finish her term well beyond Duterte’s presidential term. She has14 more years left in her term. Now in her fourth year as chief justice, she won’t reach the retirement age of 70 years until July 2, 2030.
2030 is so far, far away, some of us will be forgiven for wishing that she will be demoted or summarily replaced long before then.
SC takes a more proactive role
I think Sereno’s best chance of keeping her post lies in leading the High Court in resolving justly and fairly outstanding questions before the Court that carry grave import for the nation.
First, the SC should resolve with finality the patently unfair and inhumane detention of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. If the Court orders her release while Aquino is still President, it will serve at least to show that Sereno will not take dictation to the bitter end of Aquino’s term.
Second, the SC should favorably act on the petitions for the Court to compel the Comelec to conduct a full audit of the automated election system (AES). Once and for all, the nation must be assured that it is not being fooled by the computerized system that has cost billions of public money.
Finally, the Court should rise to the challenge of convening as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET), when Sen. Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., as announced, files his election protest against the many alleged irregularities in the May 9 elections.
The Court should assure the nation that it will look into the issue thoroughly and fairly to bring out the truth and the real results of the balloting.
What is at stake here is not just the fate of one candidacy for public office but the integrity of our electoral process itself.
If the Supreme Court places its authority and prestige behind this effort, the people will rally behind it. And the nation will finally be at peace with the May 9 elections.