Supreme Court Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo-de Castro faces a House panel hearing on the impeachment complaint against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.
The STAR/Miguel de Guzman, File photo
De Castro is new chief justice, but term to last 2 months
(philstar.com) - August 25, 2018 - 2:48pm

MANILA, Philippines (Update 2, 3:41 p.m.) — Associate Justice Teresita De Castro is the new Supreme Court chief justice, replacing ousted Maria Lourdes Sereno. But her term will only last for two months. 

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, a member of the Judicial and Bar Council by virtue of his position, told reporters that President Rodrigo Duterte picked De Castro as the country’s new top judge.

“Her appointment as chief justice is a fitting finale to her illustrious career in both the Department of Justice and the judiciary,” Guevarra said.

Malacañang will release De Castro’s appointment paper on Tuesday. In a statement, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said De Castro is the “best choice” for the chief justice post.

“Bravo!” Roque remarked. “Proven competence, known nationalist and a streak of being a judicial activist!”

De Castro, who has served the judiciary for more than four decades, is the most senior among the SC justices vying for the chief justice post. Other magistrates who were shortlisted were Diosdado Peralta and Lucas Bersamin.

Duterte, who has made no secret of his dislike for Sereno, earlier called the former chief magistrate his “enemy” who must be removed from the high tribunal. 

In May, the SC voted 8-6 to remove Sereno over missing wealth declaration documents. The tribunal affirmed the controversial ruling in June. The SC also immediately ordered the JBC to start processing applications for the chief justice post.

De Castro landed in the headlines at the height of the ouster cases against Sereno. She was one of the resource persons at the impeachment proceedings at the House of Representatives and her line of questioning during the oral arguments on the quo warranto case seemed to confirm a rift between them.

The tension between the two even spilled over to public events.

De Castro will reach the mandatory retirement age of 70 on October 8. She has over a month as top judge.

Former chief justice Pedro Yap in 1988 served for about two months also, while Felix Macasiar held the post for four months in 1985.

De Castro’s career 

De Castro started as a law clerk at the SC in 1973 and rose to become a magistrate in 2007.

She is an alumna of the University of the Philippines, where she graduated Number 4 in her law school class. She also attended law courses at the International Law Institute in Washington D.C. and Harvard Law School’s Program of Instruction for Lawyers in Massachusetts.

During her stint at anti-graft court Sandiganbayan, De Castro sat as the presiding justice and chair of the Sandiganbayan Special Division that convicted former President Joseph Ejercito Estrada of plunder.

She was also the ponente of the ruling that allowed Estrada to keep his post as Manila mayor when former Mayor Alfredo Lim asked the SC to reverse the Comelec’s decision allowing the pardoned plunderer to run for office.

As a presiding justice of Sandiganbayan, De Castro received the Chief Justice Davide Judicial Reform Award in 2005. She also sits as president of the Philippine Women Judges Association.

Plans

During her interview with the JBC last week, De Castro maintained that she could institute changes in a short span of time should she replace Sereno.

One of the things she aims to do before she retires is to reorganize the ethics and ethical standards committee so complaints against justices can be brought to the court. 

“There must be a grievance machinery in the SC so we can discipline our own just like in Congress, they can discipline their colleagues,” she said.

“It’s not like as if I’m going to start working on projects that will benefit the Supreme Court today. I have been doing this since 2009. I have accomplished much already. There are projects set for completion within this short period and I can start projects which may go beyond my term,” she added. — with reports from Kristine Joy Patag and The STAR/Edu Punay

MARIA LOURDES SERENO SUPREME COURT TERESITA DE CASTRO
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