POSTSCRIPT / April 22, 2010 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Despite SC final ruling, questions won’t go away

TOUCHY ISSUES: The Supreme Court “final” ruling last Monday that affirmed President Arroyo’s constitutional power to appoint the successor of Chief Justice Reynato Puno when he retires on May 17 may not be the last word on the subject and related issues.

Consider these contentious points that will continue to be kicked around even after Puno’s exit:

* When the President appoints one of the incumbent associate justices as Chief Justice, a new vacancy in the 15-member tribunal is created. The President may just decide to fill also that post before she leaves Malacanang, triggering another round of debates.

* Sen. Noynoy Aquino of the Liberal Party has served notice that if won the presidency he would not recognize the new Chief Justice appointed by his predecessor. Will he make good his threat or look for a way out of the political cul-de-sac?

* Fairly or not, many of the incumbent justices have been stereotyped by critics and skeptics as Arroyo partisans when rendering of decisions and opinions on politics-laden issues brought before the Court.

* * *

NEW MEMBER: When President Arroyo follows through her appointment of a new Chief Justice with the naming of a brand-new associate justice to complete the Court’s membership of 15, she is likely to stir up the same debate over “midnight” appointments.

It is easy for her critics to accuse her of packing the Court with her favorites in preparation for her defense from criminal charges that are likely to be filed when she is no longer president.

But this time, she has the latest SC decision in her legal arsenal when her critics question her appointing the 15th magistrate. For comfort, there is also that loyalist squad holding sway in the tribunal.

* * *

NOYNOY THREAT: It may have been precipitate of LP standard bearer Noynoy Aquino to warn that he would not recognize Arroyo’s choice of Chief Justice if he won the presidency in the May elections.

That would be a complicated situation. How could a new President appoint a new Chief Justice when, by that time, there would no longer be a vacancy in the Court?

By that time also, the new Chief Justice installed by President Arroyo may have presided over en banc deliberations and may have even written a ponencia. Would losing parties question decisions made with the crucial participation of the new Chief Justice?

Like his early campaign promise that he would not impose new taxes if he became President, would Aquino’s threat of appointing his own Chief Justice be retracted?

* * *

CHARTER & CALENDAR: On the matter of all 15 SC justices, including the Chief Justice, being appointees of one President, that is a mere accident of time.

As those appointments are a function of the Constitution and the calendar, it may not be fair to blame the President for having a hand in creating that remarkable situation.

It is the duty of the President, under Sections 4 (1) and 9, Article VIII (Judicial Department), to fill vacancies in the Supreme Court within 90 days of their occurrence. Such appointments need no confirmation by any body, such as the Commission on Appointment.

The only requirements are that the President draws her appointees from the list of at least three nominees submitted by the Judicial and Bar Council and that she does it within 90 days.

The President is duty-bound to make the proper appointments – an act she can perform even on her very last day in Malacanang.

Still, you can be sure there will be the usual angry noises from her critics.

* * *

HARBOR ROW: At the piers, it is lamentable that the Philippine Liner and Shipping Association of the Philippines appears to be waging war on a company mandated by contract to develop North Harbor into a world-class facility.

Showing impatience, PLSA accused Manila North Harbour Port Inc., the new operator of the Manila North Harbor, of failing to provide enough equipment to handle goods — despite MNHPI’s having complied with the requirements set by the Philippine Ports Authority.

Already delivered by MNHPI were 159 heavy and medium-sized equipment needed to upgrade service at the country’s once premier port. The PPA checked the equipment before the MNHPI takeover of the port last April 12.

But PLSA saw nothing and issued statements that the equipment delivered did not conform to standards set by the PPA. How can that be when PPA, the sole port operator before the hand-over, was the one that set the standard for equipment acquisition?

* * *

GIVE RP A CHANCE: The upgrading of the North Harbor to world-class status has long been delayed while ports of neighboring countries left Manila behind in terms of services, business generation and public perception.

A good idea is for stakeholders — including the MNHPI, the PLSA and the PPA – to thresh out the remaining problems IN GOOD FAITH. Obstructionism and quarreling in public are counter-productive.

That some PLSA members were also interested in the P14.5-billion modernization contract won by MNHPI may explain some lingering resentment. But that is what competitive business is all about – win some, lose some.

Some shipping operators smarting from their not getting the deal must be reminded that during the time they were lording it over the harbor, it deteriorated into a sad state of disrepair. In short, they had a chance, but blew it.

An earnest and better qualified outfit has won the contract fair and square. They should give it – also the industry and the country – a chance.

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of April 22, 2010)

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