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Philippines lawyers protest ruling allowing president to appoint chief justice

[JURIST] Philippine lawyers and activists protested Friday in front of the Supreme Court [official website] in Manila following Wednesday's ruling [judgment text; JURIST report], which held that the constitution does not prevent President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo [official website; BBC profile] from replacing retiring Chief Justice Reynato Puno prior to the May presidential elections. Among the activists were Philippine lawyers who used black candles to burn photos of the nine justices who ruled in favor of the decision. The right to protest is guaranteed in Article 3, Section 4 of the Philippine Constitution [text], but a Supreme Court official warned that lawyers participating in the protests would be disbarred if they exceed the legal limits of their right to protest. The appointment of the next chief justice has political significance because Arroyo's term ends June 30, and the appointment could be used to confer a political advantage in a reelection campaign.

The Supreme Court has previously sided with Arroyo, ruling last month that she is eligible to run for senate [JURIST report] after her presidential term expires. The court found the law requiring appointed officials to resign when they declare their candidacy for elected office is constitutional, but that the ruling does not affect elected officials. Also last month, the Philippine Department of Justice (PDOJ) [official website] charged 197 people with murder [JURIST report] in connection with the November massacre in the semi-autonomous Maguindanao province that left 57 dead. Among those charged is Andal Ampatuan Sr., a former political ally to Arroyo. Following the killings, Arroyo imposed martial law [JURIST report] and suspended habeas corpus in the province. She later lifted the conditions, following international pressure and domestic legal challenges [JURIST reports].

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