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G.R. No. 224302 November 29, 2016

Hon. Philip A. Aguinaldo v.

His Excellency President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III

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 Justices 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.

Whether or not the clustering done by the JBC is constitutional.

The Supreme Court (SC) has affirmed its decision striking down as unconstitutional the
clustering of shortlisted nominees made by the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) last year
in connection with Sandiganbayan vacancies.

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.