Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Estela M. Perlas-Bernabe retires today as she turns 70, the mandatory retirement age for members of the judiciary.
The Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) has submitted to President Duterte a list of six appellate court justices as nominees to the seat to be vacated by Bernabe.
Bernabe steps down after serving the judiciary for more than 25 years as trial court judge, appellate court justice, and SC magistrate. She was promoted to the 15-member bench on Sept. 16, 2011 after her seven-year stint as Court of Appeals justice.
The JBC, which screens and evaluates the nominees and applicants for various positions in the judiciary, submitted to the President its shortlist of nominees, namely: CA Associate Justice Ramon Alcala Cruz and Maria Elisa Sempio Diy, Sandiganbayan Associate Justice Geraldine Faith Abracia Econg, and CA Associate Justices Ronaldo Roberto Baquizal Martin, Fernanda Lampas Peralta, and Maria Filomena Dumandan Singh.
Following the March 17, 2010 SC decision which became final and executory on April 20, 2010, the President can appoint Bernabe’s replacement.
Settled by the SC in the 2010 decision was the provision in Section 15, Article VII of the Constitution on the ban on appointments by the President two months before the presidential election and up to the end of his/her term.
The 2010 decision ruled that the ban under Section 15, Article VII of the Constitution does not include appointments to fill up a vacant post in the SC.
When President Duterte appoints Bernabe’s replacement, the new appointee would be his 13th incumbent appointee in the 15-member bench.
The Duterte-appointed incumbent members of the SC are Chief Justice Alexander G. Gesmundo and Associate Justices Ramon Paul L. Hernando, Amy C. Lazaro Javier, Henri Jean Paul B. Inting, Rodil V. Zalameda, Mario V. Lopez, Samuel H. Gaerlan, Ricardo R. Rosario, Jhosep Y. Lopez, Japar B. Dimaampao, Jose Midas P. Marquez, and Antonio T. Kho Jr.
The two other SC incumbent members –Associate Justices Marvic M.V.F. Leonen and Alfredo Benjamin S. Caguioa – were appointees of the late President Benigno Aquino III.
The retirement of Bernabe would pave the way for the elevation of Justice Leonen to the post of senior associate justice and, following tradition, would assume as chairperson of the SC’s second division.
Justice Caguioa, on the other hand, will be the chairperson of the SC’s third division. Justice Hernando would be the working chairperson of the SC’ first division.
Justice Bernabe finished her pre-law at the St. Paul College in Manila, magna cum laude, in 1972. She passed the Bar in 1976 after finishing her law degree as salutatorian at the Ateneo College of Law.
Immediately after passing the bar exams, she joined the judiciary as technical assistant in the office of then Justice Lorenzo Relova. She then engaged in private legal practice from 1978 to 1993. She later became a senior partner in Bernabe Perlas Morte & Associates law offices from 1993 to 1996.
In 1996 she was appointed judge of the metropolitan trial court in Makati City. In 2000, she was promoted regional trial court judge. In 2004, she was named CA associate justice until her SC promotion in 2011.
The SC’s website states that Justice Bernabe has been teaching Practice Court and Evidence at the Ateneo College of Law since 2009. Among her many awards are the CA Award for Exemplary Performance, CA Award of Recognition for Outstanding Performance in Case Disposition; Best Written Decision-Municipal/Metropolitan Trial Court from the Philippine Women Judges Association (PWJA); Natatanging Babaeng Hukom-Municipality of Plaridel, Bulacan; and Gawad Parangal 2008 as Outstanding Alumna for Dedicated Service to Country and People-St. Paul University Manila; and Huwaran Anak ng Bulakan and Gat Marcelo H. del Pilar Awards in 2011.
With her retirement, she would relinquish her post as president of PWJA.