Saturday, August 25, 2012

Sereno takes oath as the first woman Chief Justice

MANILA, Philippines—Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno took her oath before President Benigno Aquino in Malacañang Saturday morning, without the senior justices of the Supreme Court.

Apart from Sereno’s family, academicians and Cabinet officials, only Supreme Court Justices Martin Villarama Jr., Estela Perlas-Bernabe, Mariano del Castillo and Bienvenido Reyes turned up at her oath-taking in the Palace.

Besides appointing Sereno as the Philippine’s first woman chief justice, Aquino also broke tradition by not picking the head of the judiciary from among the five most senior justices of the Supreme Court. In seniority, Sereno ranks 13th among the 14 justices on the court. Aquino still has to appoint a 15th member.

The five top senior justices are Antonio Carpio, who acted as chief justice after Renato Corona was removed by impeachment last May 29, Presbitero Velasco Jr., Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, Arturo Brion and Diosdado Peralta (who declined his nomination for chief justice).

Other candidates on the short list submitted by the Judicial and Bar Council to the President were Carpio, De Castro, Brion and Associate Justice Roberto Abad, along with Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza, former representative Ronaldo Zamora and former Ateneo College of Law dean Cesar Villanueva.

Carpio, De Castro, Brion, Abad, Velasco and Peralta were absent from Sereno’s oath-taking, and so were Associate Justices Lucas Bersamin, Jose Perez and Jose Mendoza.

Strategic Communication Secretary Ricky Carandang refused to read any meaning in their absence.

“I don’t think it’s fair to speculate in that way,” Carandang said when reporters asked him if he thought the absence of the senior justices meant they were not taking Sereno’s appointment well.  “As far as I know Sereno’s appointment was very widely viewed as a positive development.”

He added that Sereno was a “person of competence and integrity who, we all hope, will reform the judiciary and make it more responsive to the needs of ordinary people.”

Aquino administered the oath to Sereno, who entered Rizal Hall beaming, in simple, brief rites at around 10 a.m. Saturday. Her husband Mario Jose Sereno, daughter Sophia and son Jose Lorenzo stood behind her.

Also on hand to witness the oath-taking were former Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban, Court of Appeals Presiding Justice Andres Reyes, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr., Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, Carandang, and Sereno’s former colleagues at the University of the Philippines’ College of Law, among others.

Sereno, who at 52 has 18  years to serve as chief magistrate, declined media interviews.

She later stopped by the wake for the late Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo, who perished in a plane crash in Masbate last Saturday afternoon, at the Kalayaan Hall.

Hours after Aquino received Robredo’s remains for a two-day wake on Friday, Malacañang afternoon announced Sereno’s appointment, three days ahead of the 90-day deadline that ends Monday.

De Lima, supposedly Malacañang’s “bet’’ for the top Supreme Court post until she was disqualified by the JBC because of a pending administrative case, praised Sereno’s appointment.

“She’s an excellent choice. She’ll be a very good CJ. Her youth, her dynamism and her brilliance would go a long way in ensuring that we can look forward to a judiciary that would be worthy of  the people’s trust,” she told reporters on her way out of the Kalayaan Hall.

After Sereno had her picture taken with the Cabinet officials, De Lima bussed and hugged the new chief justice.

“I congratulated her and then I said that [the] Supreme Court will now be in good hands,” De Lima recalled telling Sereno. “I have no rancor, whatsoever. I just said my piece when the JBC decided to disqualify me… After saying my piece, there was no rancor.”

When told that she could have been in Sereno’s shoes, De Lima let out a laugh and said: “That’s how it is. I guess I did my best in convincing my colleagues in the JBC. It’s just that there were obstacles. That disqualification was one obstacle I did not anticipate.”

Justice Villarama welcomed Sereno’s appointment. “I think she would be a good chief justice, given her talent and integrity. “I wish her luck,” he said in an interview.

He said the other justices failed to make it to the oath-taking because they were in out-of-town “lecture engagements.”  He was confident all the justices would throw their support behind her.

“The court would welcome the new chief justice. We’ll try to cooperate,” he said. “We are all mature; we know what we’re doing. I guess if there is some dissatisfaction, I guess we can solve that; we can support the chief justice.”

If there’s any reform that Sereno should concentrate on, it should be “speeding up the resolution of cases” because of the growing backlog, Villarama said. “Reform should be geared toward that,” he added.

“Let’s give her time and prove her worth.”

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