Press Release
January 16, 2010


Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago, the Senate resident expert on constitutional law, urged the Judicial and Bar Council to meet on Monday, January 18, and submit to President Arroyo a list of three nominees from the incumbent justices, for the impending vacancy of Supreme Court Chief Justice.

Santiago said it would be better for President Arroyo to pick from a JBC list, rather than for the President to override the JBC.

The senator said that if JBC does not submit a list, the President might just go ahead and appoint a Chief Justice from among the incumbent SC justices, under the constitutional provision that SC vacancies shall be filled with in 90 days after Chief Justice Reynato Puno retires on 17 May 2010.

Santiago warned that President Arroyo can argue that she does not need to wait for a JBC list, by appointing an incumbent justice who has previously passed JBC approval.

Santiago said that President Arroyo would be justified in appointing a new Supreme Court Chief Justice, if there is a compelling state necessity, such as failure of elections in Maguindanao.

"The Constitution provides that Supreme Court members shall be appointed by the President from a list of three nominees prepared by the Judicial and Bar Council. This provision is mandatory. However, the President can override the JBC in cases of national emergencies such as national survival and security," she said.

Santiago said that the unwritten but foremost duty of the President is to ensure national survival and security.

"As a byproduct of the 2004 and 2007 elections, the Ampatuans were able to consolidate political power beyond imagining. Armed confrontation between the Ampatuan and the Mangudadatu clans is highly probable if not inevitable," she said.

She said that the present "combustible" situation is chiefly due to the miscalculation of DILG Sec. Ronaldo Puno, and he should be removed as cabinet member.

"Both clans are discreetly consolidating their fighting forces from all over the ARMM area. If cornered in this conflict, the Ampatuan clan is fixing to deliver a strong psychological blow against the government. The Mangudadatu clan is targeting strong political control over the two adjacent provinces of Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat," she said.

The senator said that there are reports alleging that the Mangudadatu clan has strong links with the MILF. She said that this clan should be handled with refine security reservations.

"President Arroyo apparently possesses confidential information on this brewing shooting war between the two clans. From all angles of the national security perspective, the Maguindanao situation is very delicate. It must be handled with extrasensitivity and care," she said.

Santiago said that if the President assesses the solution of the Maguindanao situation as a compelling state necessity, then she has the power to appoint a new Chief Justice.

"If our worst fears materialize and civil war breaks out in ARMM and Region 12, then the President will have the duty under the Constitution to appoint the Chief Justice. The Constitution, Article 8, Section 4, paragraph 1, requires the President to appoint a chief justice within 90 days," Santiago said.

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