President Rodrigo Duterte has appointed Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo-De Castro as the new chief justice, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said Saturday.
Guevarra, an ex-officio member of the seven-member Judicial and Bar Council, revealed that he was informed the President appointed De Castro as the new chief justice, which was left vacant following the ouster of Maria Lourdes Sereno as top magistrate through quo warranto proceedings.
The reported appointment—which would make De Castro chief magistrate effectively for just one month and three weeks—immediately drew mixed reactions from the judiciary, the Senate and the House of Representatives.
Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, who declined to be nominated for the post even while he was the most senior of the associate justices, said: “I welcome the appointment.”
Ombudsman Samuel Martires, who was plucked out of the Supreme Court by Duterte, said “I am very, very happy that she was chosen by the President as the country’s First Lady Chief Justice.
“She deserves it. She was my Presiding Justice at the Sandiganbayan. I’m pretty sure that the Sandiganbayan justices and employees are happy for her appointment as CJ. She is a good person; strict but compassionate, a stickler to the rules, a workaholic.”
But Senator Francis Pangilinan said: “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.”
Impeachment mover and Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman protested De Castro’s appointment, saying “While justice delayed is justice denied, a judicial appointment made with undue dispatch could be an error in disguise.”
Lagman, who filed the impeachment complaint against the seven SC justices who voted to unseat Sereno, said: “The precipitate appointment of Justice Teresita-De Castro as the new chief justice deprived the Judicial and Bar Council the opportunity to reconsider her inclusion in the shortlist of nominees for the vacant position of chief magistrate together with Justices Diosdado Peralta and Lucas Bersamin, all of whom are facing impeachment complaints for culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust in the House of Representatives.”
Lagman said De Castro was an impeachable official for alleged betrayal of public trust “when she refused to inhibit herself from the adjudication of the quo warranto petition despite her admitted continuing ill will and bias against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.”
Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said: “Bravo. Best choice for CJ. Proven competence, known nationalist, and a streak of being a judicial activist.”
In a text message to reporters, Guevarra said: “I have been informed that the President’s choice has been publicly announced by SAP Bong Go and that the formal appointment will be released by ES (Executive Secretary Salvador) Medialdea on Tuesday.”
He added: “Her appointment as chief justice is a fitting finale to her illustrious career in both the Department of Justice and the judiciary.”
De Castro bested her fellow nominees and colleagues at the Supreme Court—Associate Justices Diosdado Peralta and Lucas Bersamin—who were also shortlisted by the JBC as candidates for most coveted post in the judiciary.
De Castro, appointed to the SC on Dec. 4, 2007, is the second most senior justice of the 15-member bench after Carpio, and will be serving up to Oct. 8, 2018, when she reaches her mandatory retirement age of 70.
De Castro was supposed to be the 25th chief justice of the Supreme Court, but since Sereno’s appointment was voided via quo warranto proceedings, De Castro will become the validly designated 24th top magistrate in the history of the 15-member tribunal.
In other reactions:
• Bagong Alyansang Makabayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr. twitted “The search for a new Chief Justice resumes in October 2018, right after de Castro retires. There appears to be a revolving door policy now at the SC.”
• Former Quezon Rep. Erin Tañada twitted “42 days of Justice de Castro pales in comparison to the 6 years CJ Sereno served in the SC as Chief Justice. CJ Sereno’s name will never be erased in the Decisions she penned or participated in as CJ. Nor will it erase the reforms she implemented as Chief Justice of the SC.”
• Sen. Gregorio Honasan said “the appointment of a new Supreme Court Chief Justice whoever he or she is, in this case Justice Teresita De Castro, introduces elements of stability, continuity and predictability not only to the judiciary but to our democracy.”
• Ilocos Norte Gov. Imee Marcos hailed De Castro. “Congratulations to senior justice Teresita De Castro, our new Supreme Court Chief Justice. Mabuhay po kayo!”
De Castro’s career in public service started on February 19, 1973, when she served as a law clerk position in the Office of the Clerk of Court of the Supreme 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, she moved to the Department of Justice where she worked as State Counsel I and rose from the ranks, culminating in her appointment in 1997 as Assistant Chief State Counsel.
She was designated as one of the international and peace negotiators of President Corazon Aquino and President Fidel Ramos from 1988 to 1997.
De Castro rejoined the judiciary as Sandiganbayan associate justice on September 23, 1997 and became its Presiding Justice on December 15, 2004.
During her incumbency, she spearheaded the establishment of the Computerized Case Management System and the adoption of reforms that contributed to easing of the court docket in the Sandiganbayan and to the professionalization of its workforce.
At the Supreme Court, De Castro is the working chairperson of the First Division, the chairperson of the Management Committee of the Judicial Reform Support Project, the working vice-chairperson of the Committee on Ethics and Ethical Standards and of the Halls of Justice Coordinating Committee, Chairperson of the Committee on Computerization and Library, the Committee on Gender Responsiveness in the Judiciary, and the Special Committee to Draft Rules on Sexual Harassment in the Judiciary, and Member of the Supreme Court Internal Rules Committee.
She is an alumna of the University of the Philippines where she was a consistent college and university scholar.
She finished in UP, Bachelor of Arts cum laude in 1968 and Bachelor of Laws in 1972 at the top four of her class.
She was Vice-Chancellor and a consistent member of the UP College of Law honor society, the Order of the Purple Feather.
She was elected to lifetime membership in the Phi Kappa Phi International Honor Society and Pi Gamma Mu International Honor Society in the Social Sciences for academic excellence in her Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Laws degrees. She attended law courses in the International Law Institute in Washington D.C., USA and Harvard Law School’s Program of Instruction for Lawyers in Massachusetts, USA.
During her stint as a Sandiganbayan justice, she penned the decision that convicted former President and now Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada of plunder.
In 2015, in an irony of fate, it was De Castro who penned the decision of the Supreme Court that dismissed the disqualification case against Estrada, saying he was eligible to run for Mayor of Manila.
In 2008, De Castro authored the Supreme Court decision that affirmed the executive privilege invoked by former socio-economic planning secretary Romulo Neri.
It was also De Castro, the justice in-charge in the case of the senior citizens’ party-list, who recommended that the Commission on Election sbe stopped from implementing its order disqualifying the Coalition of Senior Citizens in the Philippines.
The decision became controversial after she accused then Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno of altering the “restraining order.”
Some of her awards include: 2009 Distinguished Alumni awardee in Championing Justice/Judiciary; 2005 Awardee as Presiding Justice, Sandiganbayan, Chief Justice Davide Judicial Reform Award; 2005 Awardee Women’s Lawyer Association of the Philippines; 1998 Presidential Medal of Merit for Exceptionally Meritorious and Valuable Service Rendered and Remarkable Accomplishments 1981 Merit Awardee, Legal Staff, Department of Justice. With Maricel V. Cruz
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