CASE IN POINT | President

Power of appointment of Justices at SB; clustering of nominees is not constitutional.

The Judicial & Bar Council submitted several lists of nominees for possible appointees to the vacancies in the Sandiganbayan. The nominees were clustered into several lists like for example 17th, 18th, 19th, 20th, 21st with five (5) nominees for each cluster. President Aquino appointed Justice’s to the vacant positions, but did not pick the appointees from the clusters concerned but appointed justices from one cluster to another position. Petitioners who were listed in the cluster for the 17th Justice questioned the appointments. They contended that the President could only choose one nominee from each of the six separate shortlists for each specific vacancy and no other and the appointment made in deviation of this procedure is a violation of the Constitution. In ruling that the contention is not correct, the Supreme Court

Held: The power to recommend of the JBC cannot be used to restrict or limit the President's power to appoint as the latter's prerogative to choose someone whom he/she considers worth appointing to the vacancy in the Judiciary is still paramount. As long as in the end, the President appoints someone nominated by the JBC, the appointment is valid. President Aquino was not obliged to appoint one new Sandiganbayan Associate Justice from each of the six shortlists submitted by the JBC, especially when the clustering of nominees into the six shortlists encroached on President Aquino's power to appoint members of the Judiciary from all those whom the JBC had considered to be qualified for the same positions of Sandiganbayan Associate Justice.

The JBC, in sorting the qualified nominees into six clusters, one for every vacancy, could influence the appointment process beyond its constitutional mandate of recommending qualified nominees to the President. Clustering impinges upon the President's power of appointment, as well as restricts the chances for appointment of the qualified nominees, because (1) the President's option for every vacancy is limited to

the five to seven nominees in the cluster; and (2) once the President has appointed from one cluster, then he is proscribed from considering the other nominees in the same cluster for the other vacancies. The said limitations are utterly without legal basis and in contravention of the President's appointing power.

In view of the foregoing, President Aquino validly exercised his discretionary power to appoint members of the Judiciary when he disregarded the clustering of nominees into six separate shortlists for the different vacancies. This did not violate Article VIII, Section 9 of the 1987 Constitution which requires the President to appoint from a list of at least three nominees submitted by the JBC for every vacancy.

The President is not bound by the clustering of nominees by the JBC and may consider as one the separate shortlists of nominees concurrently submitted by the JBC. The requirements and qualifications, as well as the power, duties, and responsibilities are the same for all the vacant posts in a collegiate court; and if an individual is found to be qualified for one vacancy, then he/she is also qualified for all the other vacancies (Hon. Philip Aguinaldo, et al. v. Aquino, et al., G.R. No. 224302, November 29, 2016, Leonardo-De Castro, J).