Sunday, November 21, 2004

Is Vice President De Castro a Cabinet member?

Is Vice President De Castro a Cabinet member?

Updated 01:41am (Mla time) Nov 21, 2004
By Isagani Cruz
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A14 of the November 21, 2004 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

MY good friend Bartolome C. Fernandez Jr., who teaches in the UP College of Law and is a former member of the Commission on Audit, sent me a letter expressing his views on an important constitutional question. It concerns the multiple appointments extended by President Macapagal-Arroyo to Vice President Noli de Castro.

Professor Fernandez notes that De Castro has recently been named as "Cabinet Officer for Regional Development (CORD) for the ARMM. This is on top of and in addition to his earlier appointments/designations as 'Alternate' Chair of the National Anti-Poverty Commission; Chair of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC); and Presidential Adviser for Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs)." My friend doubts that these multiple appointments/designations are constitutionally sanctioned under the following provisions of the 1987 Charter:

"The x x x , Vice-President, x x x shall not, unless otherwise provided in this Constitution, hold any other office or employment during (his) tenure." (Art. VII, Sec. 13, Constitution)

"The Vice-President may be appointed as a Member of the Cabinet. Such appointment requires no confirmation." (Ibid).

Fernandez says that pursuant to the said provisions, the Vice President is prohibited from holding any other office or employment during his tenure "unless otherwise provided in this Constitution." Elsewhere in the same Sec. 13, "the Constitution provides otherwise by empowering the President to appoint the Vice-President as a Member of the Cabinet."

"Please note the words 'a Member,' with a capital letter M, indicating a single appointment to a regular Membership in the Cabinet, say, as Department Head."

"By simultaneously holding the positions involved," Fernandez asks, "did Vice President De Castro become a Member of the Cabinet within the contemplation of the Constitution? Assuming that these positions have Cabinet rank, it does not follow that he thereby becomes a Member of the Cabinet. In a real sense, he holds only the rank but not the position of a regular Member of the Cabinet."

He argues that, "by analogy, the Court Administrator in the Supreme Court and the Government Corporate Counsel only enjoy the rank of a justice of the Supreme Court or the Court of Appeals but not the title of Justice. That is why I am intrigued why they sport the title of Justice before their names."

Fernandez recalls that Chief Justice Enrique M. Fernando was emphatic in saying that unless one has been appointed to the superior courts, he has no business calling himself Justice.

I was the author of the resolution denying the request of the Court Administrator to be officially called Justice although he had not previously been appointed to the Supreme Court or the Court of Appeals (and now also the Sandiganbayan). The Supreme Court rejected the ground for the request that the Court Administrator exercises disciplinary jurisdiction over all courts except the Supreme Court.

It is true that some former Court Administrators called themselves Justice but that was because they had previously served on the Court of Appeals. Examples are Justices Bellosillo and Presbitero Velasco who were appointed from that Court and so could continue calling themselves Justice. This is a permanent title like President or General. Others who did not have that background merely usurped that title because their non-judicial offices did not make them Justices.

Commissioner Fernandez raises a thought-provoking question that at least deserves serious study. Has the Constitution been violated by the multiple appointments or designations extended to Vice President De Castro by the President of the Philippines? President Arroyo is by her orientation and training not a lawyer but an economist. She probably has not fully read the Constitution of 1987, which is no fault of hers owing to its wordiness and occasional triviality. Even lawyers have the same failing (or justification).

Given her career inadequacy, President Arroyo has to depend much on her Legal Adviser when it comes to the proper understanding of the Constitution, which she is mandated to enforce. I am wondering if Merceditas Gutierrez, who now occupies that important position, has studied the question here posed or if she was consulted at all by the President on this matter. Vice President De Castro must also have some lawyers on his staff who might have advised him on the meaning of the constitutional provisions applicable to him. Have they?

Some civic-minded citizen, like the late Ramon A. Gonzales, a worthy gladiator of the bar, could bring this matter to the Supreme Court for a categorical decision. But the likelihood is that it will dismiss the case on the ground that the petitioner is not a proper party. That is the usual cop-out. Moreover, there is the considerable expense of litigation these days, especially the high judicial fees that have risen like the nation's blood pressure.


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