Philippine president swears in new chief justice
MANILA, Philippines—Outgoing Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo swore in a new chief justice Monday whose appointment has been questioned by her apparent successor, sparking fears of a constitutional crisis.
Opposition Sen. Benigno Aquino III, who is set to become the president-elect in an almost-complete vote count of May 10 elections, has vowed not to take his oath of office before newly-appointed Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona, who once served as Arroyo's chief of staff and spokesman.
Aquino has said he preferred to take his oath before a village leader in Tarlac, his northern home province, when Arroyo's term ends on June 3. The constitution does not say the oath must be taken before the chief justice and any official can administer it.
Arroyo's action has brought the Supreme Court on a possible collision course with the incoming administration, said Aquino's political adviser Florencio Abad.
"She's really pushing us to the brink of a crisis here," Abad told The Associated Press.
Arroyo, who ran successfully for a seat in House of Representatives, may have been appointing friendly justices to fend off possible legal action that Aquino has said his new administration would initiate against her, Abad said.
Aquino has said that he planned to form a commission to investigate allegations of massive corruption and vote-rigging involving Arroyo, who faced several failed opposition impeachment bids, coup attempts and political unrest during her turbulent nine years in office.
In a news conference, Corona said his appointment was legal and rejected perceptions that he will be biased in favor of Arroyo. "Watch me," Corona said. "Don't judge me now."
Asked if he will inhibit himself from any future case involving Arroyo, Corona refused to reply. Aquino's rejection of his appointment may or may not lead to a crisis, he said.
The son of two revered democracy icons, Aquino has questioned Arroyo's appointment of Corona last week, citing constitutional prohibitions on appointments two months before the end of a presidential term. However, a majority of Supreme Court justices -- all appointed by Arroyo -- ruled in March that the two-month ban does not apply to the position of chief justice.
Aquino has ordered his lawyers to study how the Supreme Court ruling, which he deemed unconstitutional, can be challenged, said Abad.
Presidential spokesman Gary Olivar said Arroyo's actions were legal and admonished Aquino, asking that he adhere to the constitution by recognizing Corona's authority.
On Monday, Arroyo swore in Corona in a ceremony that was covered only by journalists from state-run news agencies.
Arroyo was accused of vote-rigging in 2004 and implicated in several corruption scandals. She denies any wrongdoing.
Government corruption has plagued the Philippines for decades, and Aquino's campaign promise to clean it up has endeared him to many in his poverty-wracked Southeast Asian nation, which also has grappled with decades-long Muslim and communist rebellions.