Duterte names De Castro new chief justice
Photo taken on Nov. 27, 2017 shows Supreme Court Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo-De Castro taking her oath before testifying during the impeachment proceedings against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno at the House of Representatives.
Miguel De Guzman
Duterte names De Castro new chief justice
Evelyn Macairan (The Philippine Star) - August 26, 2018 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Supreme Court (SC) Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo-de Castro has been appointed as the new chief justice by President Duterte.

Justice Secretary and Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) member Menardo Guevarra and presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr. confirmed the development yesterday.

“I have been informed that the President’s choice has been publicly announced by Special Assistant to the President Christopher Lawrence ‘Bong’ Go and that the formal appointment will be released by Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea on Tuesday,” Guevarra told reporters.

“Bravo! Best choice for chief justice! (De Castro has) proven competence, (she is) a known nationalist and a streak of being a judicial activist!” Roque said.

Guevarra and Roque issued their respective statements at the same time yesterday.

De Castro will serve for less than two months as she will reach the mandatory retirement age of 70 on Oct. 8. She will share the record of shortest stints in the top SC post with former chief justices Pedro Yap, who served for about two months in 1988, and Felix Macasiar, who served for four months in 1985.

De Castro was chosen as the next chief justice over Diosdado Peralta and Lucas Bersamin – the two other younger associate justices – whose names were also on the JBC’s shortlist submitted to Duterte last Friday.

Prior to the announcement of Duterte’s decision, Roque had been saying since June that the President would honor seniority in selecting the next chief justice.

De Castro is the second most senior among the SC justices after Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, who did not apply for the chief justice position.

Sources in the administration said De Castro was appointed to give her a chance to serve until her retirement and that Bersamin will take over thereafter.

Her appointment makes De Castro the first female chief justice since Maria Lourdes Sereno’s appointment to the SC became void when the SC en banc voted in favor of the quo warranto petition filed by Solicitor General Jose Calida.

De Castro was one of the most vocal critics of Sereno, her predecessor, during the House of Representatives’ committee on justice hearings on the impeachment complaint against Sereno.

During the JBC’s public interview for chief justice applicants, however, De Castro said that while she was one of the justices who testified against Sereno, she still believed they had a harmonious relationship during the latter’s tenure as chief justice,.

“I may have raised objections to some of her official actions but it was done through proper procedure and it never affected our personal relationship. In fact, she appointed me as committee chair on family court and juvenile concerns,” De Castro said.

She even worked under Sereno when the latter was still head of the First Division and recalled that Sereno never made a complaint against her.

“We were able to work harmoniously. Whatever is written outside the court is not accurate,” De Castro noted.

Sereno’s camp yesterday said they have no comment on De Castro’s appointment.

45 years in service

De Castro graduated from the University of the Philippines (UP) with a Bachelor of Arts degree, cum laude, in 1968 and a Bachelor of Law degree in 1972 at the top four of her class, according to her profile on the SC website.

She began her career in public service in February 1973 as a clerk at the SC’s Office of the Clerk of Court. From January 1975 to November 1978, she served as a legal/judicial assistant and as member of the technical staff of the late chief justice Fred Ruiz Castro.

In December 1978, De Castro transferred to the Department of Justice (DOJ) where she served as state counsel and rose from the ranks culminating in her appointment in 1997 as assistant chief state counsel.

De Castro was designated as one of the international and peace negotiators of former presidents Corazon Aquino and Fidel Ramos from 1988 to 1997. She rejoined the judiciary as Sandiganbayan Associate Justice in 1997 and became its presiding justice in December 2004.

De Castro was one of the three Sandiganbayan justices who convicted ousted president and incumbent Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada of plunder in 2007, after which, she was appointed by then president and incumbent Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to the SC. Her appointment, according to Estrada, was “a reward.”

De Castro told the JBC during her interview that while she would have only a couple of months to serve as Chief Justice, she is familiar with the inner workings of the high court as she has been an associate justice for 11 years now.

“It is not as if I would start today,” she said.

De Castro also explained that she has been working on judicial projects for many years and was once the chairperson of the SC’s management committee on judicial reform and headed the plan on the computerization of the library.

She also assured the public that despite her short stint, she would make sure that SC projects that have been put on hold would be given attention even after her retirement.

De Castro also received praises from two members of the JBC, regular member Jose Mendoza and ex-officio member Sen. Richard Gordon, during the public interview.

In fact, Mendoza no longer questioned De Castro and just described her as someone who is a competent jurist, leader and administrator. Gordon said he shared the sentiment of Mendoza, saying he knows her to have an impeccable character.

Gordon welcomed the appointment of De Castro as the new Chief Justice, saying she is very qualified for the post because of her sterling record in the judiciary.

The senator said De Castro was his personal choice even though she would have a short stint. He said it does not matter as it will “buy peace at the moment” at the SC.

Gordon said De Castro would just be taking on additional responsibilities since she is already a senior associate justice.

Once De Castro retires, Gordon said the JBC would go back to work in screening a new set of applicants for judiciary’s highest post.

He said Carpio could be a strong candidate this time around since he had declined to include his name in the just concluded process.

Carpio would probably not be able to say no anymore to his nomination the next time around, according to Gordon.

Sen. Gregorio Honasan said De Castro’s appointment “introduces elements of stability, continuity and predictability not only to the judiciary but to our democracy.”

“I welcome the appointment of Justice De Castro as the new SC CJ. I feel truly proud given that she came from our court, the Sandiganbayan,” Sandiganbayan Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang Tang said in a text message to reporters.

The Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) said it is pleased with De Castro’s appointment despite ethical issues confronting her, as she is after all the most senior in the shortlist.

“Justice De Castro is the next most senior in the Court. While on the one hand she faces ethical questions considering that she is succeeding a CJ she helped remove, on the other hand we are hoping that this starts a trend that will weigh heavily in favor of seniority as a tradition,” IBP president Abdiel Fajardo said.

For Sen. Francis Pangilinan, however, the filling in of the vacancy at the high court does nothing to help in strengthening of the rule of law.

“Why appoint someone who will only sit as chief justice for less than two months? What public purpose does it serve? What public value does it create? The appointment leaves much to be desired,” Pangilinan, who is part of the political opposition, said.

De Castro was among the justices facing impeachment based on the complaint filed by the opposition legislators at the House of Representatives.

Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, who was among those who filed the complaint against the justices, said the JBC acted with “indecent alacrity” in nominating De Castro, Bersamin and Peralta when the impeachment complaint had just been submitted.

Lagman described the JBC nomination and Duterte’s subsequent appointment of De Castro as “infirm.”

“It is a hollow and self-serving rhetoric to claim that the JBC does not need to consider the disqualification of the shortlisted justices because the impeachment complaints against them are not pending while awaiting congressional action. On the contrary, the pendency of a complaint is reckoned from its inception with the filing of the complaint or action in the proper forum,” he said.

Lagman cited jurisprudence that an action is considered “pending from its inception until the rendition of final judgment.”

Lagman’s opposition colleague Tom Villarin of Akbayan said Duterte’s appointment of De Castro “shows the depth of the abyss our country’s rule of law has fallen.”

“I congratulate both of them for bagging the ‘quintessential bootlicking award.’ Never in the history of modern democracy that such blatant disregard for decency was shown than in this case. It was a classic case of patronage, where I scratch your back, you scratch mine,” he said. – With Christina Mendez, Marvin Sy, Jess Diaz, Emmanuel Tupas, Elizabeth Marcelo, Janvic Mateo, Evelyn Macairan

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