By MARK MERUEÑAS and GIAN GERONIMO
President Benigno Aquino III on Friday chose Associate Justice Lourdes Sereno, 52, as the nation’s 24th Chief Justice, replacing Renato Corona who was convicted by the Senate impeachment court in May.
One of three Aquino appointees to the court, the UP Law valedictorian is expected to be Chief Justice for the next 18 years, or until she reaches the mandatory retirement age of 70. She is the first woman Chief Justice, and the second youngest ever.
“In the midst of this period of deep mourning for the loss of Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo, the President is cognizant of his constitutional duty to appoint the next chief justice of the Philippines. He has therefore decided to appoint Associate Justice Maria Lourdes Punzalan Aranal-Sereno as the 24th Chief Justice of the Supreme Court,” according to a statement by the Office of the Presidential Spokesperson.
“The President is confident that Chief Justice Sereno will lead the judiciary in undertaking much-needed reforms. We believe the Judicial Branch of government has a historic opportunity to restore our people’s confidence in the judicial system,” the statement added.
“She is very disciplined in her interpretation of the law, and makes decisions based on the national interest,” said Tony Laviña, the Dean of Ateneo’s School of Government who has known Sereno for more than 30 years. “I have always admired her tenacity to argue. She is pro-poor and a fighter. Her heart is in the right place.”
Dissenter during Corona impeachment trial
The eight-member JBC submitted its shortlist of recommendees on August 13, which included, besides Sereno, acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio (with seven votes) and Associate Justices Roberto Abad, Arturo Brion, and Teresita De Castro.
Also included were Solicitor-General Francis Jardeleza, Ateneo De Manila University Law Dean Cesar Villanueva, and former Executive Secretary Ronaldo Zamora.
The 52-year-old Sereno will be replacing ousted Chief Justice Corona, who was unseated last May 31 after being found guilty of hiding around P200 million in several bank accounts. During the Chief Justice search, the most senior associate justice next to Corona – Carpio – took over as acting Chief Justice. Carpio was also considered a favorite for the job.
Sereno is one of President Benigno Aquino III’s three appointees to the Supreme Court. The two others are Associate Justices Bienvenido Reyes and Estela Perlas-Bernabe.
Sereno was a known dissenter in Supreme Court resolutions related to the four-month impeachment trial of Corona. Sereno was a dissenter when the high court stopped the Senate impeachment trial from opening Corona’s dollar accounts with the Philippine Savings Bank.
She also wrote a “partly” dissenting opinion when the high court ruled to give prosecutors in the impeachment court limited access to court documents. She branded the move a “censure and curtailment” of a justice’s constitutional right to explain her opinion.
When she was publicly interviewed by the Judicial and Bar Council last July 27, Sereno openly expressed her preference that an “insider” or one of the sitting SC magistrates should be chosen to lead the high court instead of an “outsider.”
She said choosing an outsider would be like sending a civilian to lead troops in war.
“Kung outsider ang ia-appoint, para kang nag-appoint ng sibilyan para pamunuan ang isang giyera,” said Sereno.
In the same public interview, Sereno said she opposes a “personalistic” leadership of the SC, and instead advocates a “community-based” vision for the high court.
“Ang kaya kong dalhin sa Supreme Court ay isang judiciary na matapang at may accountability,” she said.
The UP Law graduate assured the public she would neither get “bored” nor “burned out” if she gets selected the next chief justice and holds on to that post for 18 years.
She is one of the youngest aspirants for chief justice. Justices of the Supreme Court vacate their posts when they reach the retirement age of 70.
“Bakit ako magkakaroon ng burnout kung napaka colorful ng aking naging 52 years. Bakit po ako mabobore kung magaganda ang pahiwatig ng next 18 years?” she said.
She also said she will take on the task of leading much older justices.
“Ang pag-preside sa mga taong nakatatanda sa akin ay hindi na bago sa akin,” she said, pointing out also that as far as the candidates are concerned, she is actually one of the more senior people.
During the Corona impeachment trial, prosecutors had wanted to send Sereno to the witness stand and testify against her fellow magistrate.
In a letter dated February 29, however, Sereno declined the request.
“I understand, however, that the termination of the presentation of evidence by the Prosecution Panel yesterday and reiterated today before the Impeachment Court has superseded your invitation,” Sereno wrote in her letter to prosecutors.
The letter was not clear on whether Sereno would testify had the prosecution not rested its case.
The prosecution had used Sereno’s dissenting opinions on the temporary restraining order (TRO) on the watch list order against former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to prove Corona’s partiality and how he tried to influence the outcome of the ruling.
Before becoming Associate Justice, Sereno was executive director of the Asian Institute of Management, consultant for judicial reform of the United Nations Development Program, and legal counsel of various government agencies including the Office of the President, Office of the Solicitor-General, Manila International Airport Authority, Department of Agriculture, Department of Trade and Industry, WTO-AFTA Commission, and the Philippine Coconut Authority.
She earned her undergraduate degree from Ateneo de Manila University and her law degree from the University of the Philippines Diliman, where she graduated cum laude and valedictorian.
For more information about Sereno, click here. — RSJ/HS, GMA News
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Profile: Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno
By Ina Reformina
Editor’s note: President Aquino has picked Associate Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno as the country’s new Chief Justice. She is the Philippines’ first woman chief justice.
MANILA – Associate Justice Maria Lourdes A. Sereno is the first appointee to the Supreme Court (SC) by Pres. Noynoy Aquino and the youngest among the nominees for Chief Justice coming from the high tribunal.
She was born on July 2, 1960; she is 52 years old.
She completed her law degree at the University of the Philippines (UP) in 1984 as Class Valedictorian and cum laude.
As pre-law, she took up AB Economics at the Ateneo De Manila University (ADMU) where she graduated in 1980.
She completed her secondary education in 1976 at the Quezon City High School, with Honors; her elementary education was completed in 1972 when she graduated Class Salutatorian from the Kamuning Elementary School.
She had her post-graduate degree at the UP School of Economics with the Master of Arts in Economics Program which she finished in 1992. In 1993, she completed another masteral degree, this time, Master of Laws, at the University of Michigan, Michigan, USA.
Justice Sereno was appointed to the Supreme Court on Aug. 13, 2010.
She started her career in private practice as a junior associate of the Sycip Salazar Feliciano and Hernandez law firm in 1986.
Starting in1994 up to 2008, she served as legal counsel of various government offices such as the Office of the President (OP), Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA), Dept. of Trade and Industry (DTI), and WTO-AFTA. Sometime between 1995 to 1996, she headed the Information and Public Division office of the UP Law Complex.
Also, in 1995, she served as consultant for Judicial Reform of the UNDP, WB, and USAID; she served in this capacity up to 2002.
From 1996 to 1999, she was Director of the UP Institute of Legal Studies.
In 1998, she was a counsellor of the WTO Appellate Body.
In 1999, she served as Commissioner and Chairperson of the Steering Committee of the Preparatory Commission on Constitutional Reform.
Sereno was a lecturer at the Dept. of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Foreign Service Institute from 1996 to 2007.
She served as a lecturer in Electronic Commerce Law at the AIM in 2000, at the same time, at the Murdoch University lecturing on International Business Law from 2001 t0 2002. She also lectured on International Business Law at the University of Western Australia from 2003 up to 2007.
In 2004, she was a lecturer on International Trade Law at the Hague Academy of International Law.
She was a longtime professor at the UP, teaching for 20 years, from 1986 to 2002.
She became the Executive Director of the AIM in 2009, a post she held on to for a year.
Sereno became president of ACCESSLAW, Inc. in 2000, a post she continues to enjoy up to the present.
Awards, other credentials
In her 25 years as a lawyer and educator, Sereno received the following awards:
- 1998 Outstanding Women in the Nation’s Service
- 2000 Most Outstanding Alumna Award, Quezon City High School
- 2003 Most Oustanding Alumna Award, Kamuning Elementary School
- 1991 Provincial Citation, Camarines Sur
She was also able to edit the book, Thirty Years and Beyond (UP Law, 1997).
Sereno was the key writer on Law and Economics and the Constitution and Judicial Review of Economic Decisions.
She also drafted the legal framework for the operations of the first paperless trading of securities in the country for the Bureau of Treasury (BT).
Endorsements for Chief Justice, oppositions
Sereno was not automatically nominated for the top judicial post for being one of the most junior magistrates of the Supreme COurt, rather, she was nominated by the following:
- Felma Roel Singco (June 13, 2012)
- Reagan De Guzman (June 13, 2012)
- Atty. Fidel Thaddeus Borja (June 14, 2012)
- Attys. Jordan Pizarras, et al. (June 15, 2012)
- Christian Legal Society through Atty. Salvador Fabregas (June 14, 2012)
- Bishop Efraim Tendero (June 18, 2012)
- UP Women’s Circle (June 13, 2012)
State of Emergency in Sulu
Sereno authored the Supreme Court decision nullifying the proclamation of a state of emergency in the southern province of Sulu in 2009 during the kidnapping of 3 members of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
The high court en banc, in the decision dated July 3, 2012, held that only the President of the Republic of the Philippines is vested with emergency powers and, as commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and leader of the Philippine National Police (PNP), call out the military and state security forces to respond to a state of emergency, local or otherwise.
Sereno wrote: “[I]t has already been established that there is one repository of executive powers, and that is the President of the Republic… Corollarily, it is only the President, as Executive, who is authorized to exercise emergency powers as provided under Sec. 23., Art. VI, of the Constitution, as well as what became known as the calling-out powers under Sec. 7, Art. VII thereof.”
Lenny Villa case
She also penned the decision finding 5 members of Ateneo De Manila Law School’s Aquila Legis Fraternity liable for the brutal hazing of Leonardo “Lenny” Villa in February 1991.
In the resolution, the high court held that Fidelito Dizon, Antonio Mariano Almeda, Junel Anthony Ama, Renato Bantug, Jr. and Vincent Tecson were found guilty beyond reasonable doubt of reckless imprudence resulting in homicide.
In her ponencia, Sereno wrote: “[T]he collective acts of the fraternity members were tantamount to recklessness, which made the resulting death of Lenny a culpable felony. It must be remembered that organizations owe to their initiates a duty of care not to cause them injury in the process. With the foregoing facts, we rule that the accused are guilty of reckless imprudence resulting in homicide. Since the NBI medico-legal officer found that the victim’s death was the cumulative effect of the injuries suffered, criminal responsibility redounds to all those who directly participated in and contributed to the infliction of physical injuries.”