Aquino appoints first woman Chief Justice

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Friday, August 24, 2012


MANILA (6th Update, 8:34 p.m.) President Benigno Aquino III has appointed Associate Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno as the 24th Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and first woman to hold the highest position in the judiciary.

Sereno will replace Renato Corona, who was impeached and convicted by the Senate last May 29 for betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the Constitution because of misdeclared cash assets.

Her appointment came hours after she met Aquino in Malacanang at 3:30 p.m. Friday, said presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda.

Sereno is scheduled to take her oath of office before the President in Malacañang at 10 a.m. Saturday.

"The President believes that after the assessment and evaluation, Justice Sereno is the candidate who is most able to institute reforms in the judiciary. That is the only consideration that the President had in appointing the next chief justice,” Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda told reporters, adding the President also interviewed other candidates the past two days.


Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Punzalan Aranal-Sereno (Source: Supreme Court website)

At the Supreme Court, Sereno promised to stay true to her oath "until the end of my term." She also thanked President Aquino for giving her the chance to lead the judiciary in the next 18 years.

"First of all, I give all the Glory to God. To the President, I thank you very much," she said.

She also thanked the media for "partnering with us in the judiciary" as she vows to give more lengthy statements in the next days.

Sereno will serve a term that will span four Presidents including Aquino because she will reach the mandatory retirement age of 70 on July 2, 2030.

Barring impeachment, resignation or death, Sereno may go down in Philippine history as the second longest serving Chief Justice next to Cayetano Arellano, the country’s first top magistrate.

Arellano was at the helm for almost 19 years from June 1, 1901 to April 1, 1920.

Before her appointment as associate justice in August 2010, Sereno was executive director of the policy think-tank of the Asian Institute of Management in 2009; professor of law at the University of the Philippines for almost 20 years, and consultant for judicial reform of the United Nations Development Program, the World Bank, and the United States Agency for International Development.

She handled various international trade and investment law disputes in the World Trade Organization in Geneva, International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes in Washington D.C., and in International Chamber of Commerce's International Court of Arbitration in Singapore and in Paris, employing bilateral dispute resolution mechanisms.

She was co-counsel for the Philippine government in its cases involving the bidding and construction of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal 3.

During the public interviews last month, Sereno mentioned God several times as bedrock of her work ethic as she summed up her judicial philosophy in three words: vision, courage, accountability.

She said her leadership will be marked by willingness to create generation of judges who will commit themselves to life of uprightness.

Sereno, a mother of two, said her life has been fruitful and exciting because of God.

"I rely completely on God. I cry out to him for strength, to be a public servant after God's own heart. It all depends on God whom I see from an eternal perspective," she told the screening body Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) on July 27.


Members of the Corona prosecution team, meanwhile, welcome the appointment of Sereno, who was supposed to testify in the Article VII of the impeachment complaint against Corona.

Sereno, however, turned down the invitation of the prosecutors citing a February 14 Supreme Court resolution disallowing justices and court staff from responding to summons of the Senate impeachment court.

Cibac party-list Sherwin Tugna, a member of the 11-man prosecution panel, said "the appointment is a welcome development for reforms and transparency in the judiciary".

House Deputy Speaker Erin Tanada and Deputy Majority Leader Romero Frederico Quimbo, who were the prosecution's spokespersons, said President Aquino's "bold" decision is a logical choice considering the government's "daang matuwid" (straight path) program.

"Her unquestionable integrity and intelligence certainly makes her a logical choice in the President's pursuit of his 'daang matuwid' program. We support the President's choice," Quimbo said in a text message.

For his part, Tanada said, "It is a good choice. There will be stability in the SC for at least 18 years and true reforms may be implemented. I congratulate CJ Sereno as the first female CJ,"

Zambales Representative Mitos Magsaysay, a staunch critic of the Aquino administration, said the next 18 years will determine whether the President made a good decision or not.

In a text message, Corona said the appointment "speaks for itself." He did not elaborate.

'Aquino court'

Kabataan party-list Representative Raymond Palatino raised fears, however, that Sereno's appointment will pave the way towards the creation of an "Aquino court."

Lacierda brushed off the speculation, saying it is the prerogative of the President to appoint who he believes should lead the Supreme Court and carry out reforms.

"On the fears that it will become an Aquino court, remember the appointees of the President are only Justice Sereno, Justice (Bienvenido) Reyes and Justice (Estela-Perlas) Bernabe, there are only so far three,” he said.

Palatino said Sereno voted for higher compensation for Aquino's maternal relatives, the Cojuangcos, in the SC decision ordering the distribution of the Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac to over 6,000 farmers. Sereno has since the denied the charge.

Lacierda also dismissed fears that Sereno lacks enough experience in heading the judiciary.

"The Constitution mandates that for a member of the Supreme Court he or she should have the minimum age of 40 years old and retire at the age of 70. The Constitution anticipates the possibility of someone being appointed at an early age," he said.

He said the President considers the age of Sereno as an advantage in leading the Supreme Court as she has longer years to institute reforms in the judiciary. However, he stressed, age was not a factor when Aquino chose Sereno to lead the Supreme Court.

Sereno finished her economics degree one year ahead than Aquino at the Ateneo de Manila University in 1980. She then took up law at the University of the Philippines, where she graduated valedictorian in 1984.

Sereno also has a master's degree in law from the University of Michigan. (Jill Beltran/Virgil Lopez/Kathrina Alvarez/Sunnex)

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