Question: Whether the incumbent President can appoint the successor of Chief Justice Puno upon his retirement.

DE CASTRO v. JUDICIAL & BAR COUNCIL

FACTS:
The compulsory retirement of Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno by May 17, 2010 occurs just days after the coming presidential elections on May 10, 2010.
These cases trace their genesis to the controversy that has arisen from the forthcoming compulsory retirement of Chief Justice Puno on May 17, 2010, or seven days after the presidential election. Under Section 4(1), in relation to Section 9, Article VIII, that “vacancy shall be filled within ninety days from the occurrence thereof” from a “list of at least three nominees prepared by the Judicial and Bar Council for every vacancy.” Also considering that Section 15, Article VII (Executive Department) of the Constitution prohibits the President or Acting President from making appointments within two months immediately before the next presidential elections and up to the end of his term, except temporary appointments to executive positions when continued vacancies therein will prejudice public service or endanger public safety.
The JBC, in its en banc meeting of January 18, 2010, unanimously agreed to start the process of filling up the position of Chief Justice.
Conformably with its existing practice, the JBC “automatically considered” for the position of Chief Justice the five most senior of the Associate Justices of the Court, namely: Associate Justice Antonio T. Carpio; Associate Justice Renato C. Corona; Associate Justice Conchita Carpio Morales; Associate Justice Presbitero J. Velasco, Jr.; and Associate Justice Antonio Eduardo B. Nachura. However, the last two declined their nomination through letters dated January 18, 2010 and January 25, 2010, respectively.
The OSG contends that the incumbent President may appoint the next Chief Justice, because the prohibition under Section 15, Article VII of the Constitution does not apply to appointments in the Supreme Court. It argues that any vacancy in the Supreme Court must be filled within 90 days from its occurrence, pursuant to Section 4(1), Article VIII of the Constitution; that had the framers intended the prohibition to apply to Supreme Court appointments, they could have easily expressly stated so in the Constitution, which explains why the prohibition found in Article VII (Executive Department) was not written in Article VIII (Judicial Department); and that the framers also incorporated in Article VIII ample restrictions or limitations on the President’s power to appoint members of the Supreme Court to ensure its independence from “political vicissitudes” and its “insulation from political pressures,” such as stringent qualifications for the positions, the establishment of the JBC, the specified period within which the President shall appoint a Supreme Court Justice.
A part of the question to be reviewed by the Court is whether the JBC properly initiated the process, there being an insistence from some of the oppositors-intervenors that the JBC could only do so once the vacancy has occurred (that is, after May 17, 2010). Another part is, of course, whether the JBC may resume its process until the short list is prepared, in view of the provision of Section 4(1), Article VIII, which unqualifiedly requires the President to appoint one from the short list to fill the vacancy in the Supreme Court (be it the Chief Justice or an Associate Justice) within 90 days from the occurrence of the vacancy.

ISSUE: Whether the incumbent President can appoint the successor of Chief Justice Puno upon his retirement.

HELD:
Prohibition under Section 15, Article VII does not apply to appointments to fill a vacancy in the Supreme Court or to other appointments to the Judiciary.
Two constitutional provisions are seemingly in conflict.
The first, Section 15, Article VII (Executive Department), provides: 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 other, Section 4 (1), Article VIII (Judicial Department), states: Section 4. (1). The Supreme Court shall be composed of a Chief Justice and fourteen Associate Justices. It may sit en banc or in its discretion, in division of three, five, or seven Members. Any vacancy shall be filled within ninety days from the occurrence thereof.
Had the framers intended to extend the prohibition contained in Section 15, Article VII to the appointment of Members of the Supreme Court, they could have explicitly done so. They could not have ignored the meticulous ordering of the provisions. They would have easily and surely written the prohibition made explicit in Section 15, Article VII as being equally applicable to the appointment of Members of the Supreme Court in Article VIII itself, most likely in Section 4 (1), Article VIII. That such specification was not done only reveals that the prohibition against the President or Acting President making appointments within two months before the next presidential elections and up to the end of the President’s or Acting President’s term does not refer to the Members of the Supreme Court.

Had the framers intended to extend the prohibition contained in Section 15, Article VII to the appointment of Members of the Supreme Court, they could have explicitly done so. They could not have ignored the meticulous ordering of the provisions. They would have easily and surely written the prohibition made explicit in Section 15, Article VII as being equally applicable to the appointment of Members of the Supreme Court in Article VIII itself, most likely in Section 4 (1), Article VIII. That such specification was not done only reveals that the prohibition against the President or Acting President making appointments within two months before the next presidential elections and up to the end of the President’s or Acting President’s term does not refer to the Members of the Supreme Court
Section 14, Section 15, and Section 16 are obviously of the same character, in that they affect the power of the President to appoint. The fact that Section 14 and Section 16 refer only to appointments within the Executive Department renders conclusive that Section 15 also applies only to the Executive Department. This conclusion is consistent with the rule that every part of the statute must be interpreted with reference to the context, i.e. that every part must be considered together with the other parts, and kept subservient to the general intent of the whole enactment. It is absurd to assume that the framers deliberately situated Section 15 between Section 14 and Section 16, if they intended Section 15 to cover all kinds of presidential appointments. If that was their intention in respect of appointments to the Judiciary, the framers, if only to be clear, would have easily and surely inserted a similar prohibition in Article VIII, most likely within Section 4 (1) thereof.

  •  
  •  
  •