Duterte calls De Castro new chief judge

MANILA, Philippines – Supreme Court (SC) Justice Officer Teresita Leonardo-de Castro has been appointed president by President Duterte.

Judge-secretary and Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) member Menardo Guevarra and president-spokesman Harry Roque Jr. confirmed the development yesterday.

"I have been informed that the President's choice was publicly announced by the special assistant of President Christopher Lawrence Bong & Go, and that the formal appointment Tuesday by Secretary-General Salvador Medialdea is being released, & # 39; Guevarra told reporters.

"Bravo! Best choice for Chief Justice! (The Castro has proven ability, (she is) a well-known nationalist and a streak to be a judicial activist!" Said Roque.

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

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

De Castro was chosen as the next supreme judge over Diosdado Peralta and Lucas Bersamin – the two other younger fellow judges – whose names were also on the shortlist of the JBC that was presented to Duterte on Friday.

Prior to the announcement of Duterte's decision, Roque had said since June that the president would honor seniority in choosing the next Chief Judge.

The Castro is the second most senior among the SC judges after Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, who did not apply for the position of Chief Justice.

Sources on the board said De Castro had been appointed to give her a chance to serve her retirement and that Bersamin would then take over.

Her appointment makes De Castro the first female chief judge since the appointment of Maria Lourdes Sereno in the SC was invalid when the SC and banc voted for the quo warranto petition filed by Solicitor General Jose Calida.

The Castro was one of the most vocal critics of Sereno, her predecessor, during the committee of the House of Representatives on judicial hearings on accusations against Sereno.

However, during the JBC public interview before the prosecutors for the main trial, De Castro said that although she was one of the judges who testified against Sereno, she still believed that she had a harmonious relationship during his tenure as a main course.

"I may have raised concerns about some of her official actions, but it was done through the right procedure and it never affected our personal relationship, in fact she appointed me as committee chairman for family affairs and youth affairs," De Castro said.

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

"We could work in harmony, and whatever was written outside the court is not correct," De Castro remarked.

Sereno & # 39; s camp said yesterday that they had no comment on the appointment of De Castro.

45 years in service

De Castro graduated cum laude from the University of the Philippines (UP) in 1968 with a Bachelor of Arts degree and a Bachelor of Law in 1972 in 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 was a legal / judicial assistant and member of the technical staff of the late chief judge Fred Ruiz Castro.

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

The Castro was appointed 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 the presiding judge in December 2004.

The Castro was one of the three judges Sandiganbayan who condemned the deposed president and incumbent mayor Joseph Estrada from the plunder in 2007, after which she was appointed a member of the SC by the then president and the sitting speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Her appointment, according to Estrada, was "a reward".

De Castro told the JBC during her interview that, while she would only have a few months to act as Chief Judge, she is familiar with the internal workings of the High Court, now that she has been working as a partner for eleven years.

"It's not like I'd start today," she said.

De Castro also explained that she has been working on legal projects for many years and was once the chairman of the SC management committee for reform of the legal system and led the plan for the automation of the library.

She also assured the public that, in spite of her short strike, she would ensure that SC projects that were put on hold would also receive attention after her retirement.

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

Mendoza no longer questioned the Castro and described her just as someone who is a competent lawyer, leader and administrator. Gordon said he shared the sentiment of Mendoza and said he knows she has an impeccable character.

Gordon welcomed the appointment of De Castro as the new Chief Judge, and said she was highly qualified for the position because of her excellent track record in the judiciary.

The senator said De Castro was his personal choice, even if she had a short stint. He said it does not matter, because it will "buy peace at the moment" to the SC.

Gordon said that De Castro would only assume additional responsibilities because she is already a senior employee.

After De Castro retired, Gordon said that the JBC would return to work when screening a new set of candidates for the highest function of the judiciary.

He said that Carpio could be a strong candidate this time, because he had refused to include his name in the just concluded process.

Carpio would probably no longer be able to say no to his appointment next time, according to Gordon.

Senator Gregorio Honasan said that the appointment of De Castro "introduces elements of stability, continuity and predictability, not only for the judiciary, but also for our democracy."

"I welcome the appointment of Justice De Castro as the new SC CJ.I feel really proud because she came from our court, the Sandiganbayan," Sandiganbayan Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang Tang said in a sms to reporters.

The Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) said it was satisfied with the appointment of De Castro, despite the ethical issues it faces, since it is the highest in the shortlist.

"Justice De Castro is the next most senior in court, while on the one hand she is faced with ethical questions, given that she succeeds in a CJ she helped to remove, on the other hand we hope that this a trend begins that will weigh heavily in favor of seniority as a tradition, "said IBP President Abdiel Fajardo,.

For senator Francis Pangilinan, however, filling the vacancy at the Supreme Court does nothing to strengthen the rule of law.

"Why name a person who will sit as chief judge for less than two months? What public purpose does it serve?" "What public value does it create?" The appointment leaves a lot to be desired, "said Pangilinan, who is part of the political opposition.

De Castro was among the judges accused of deposition on the basis of the complaint filed by the opposition lawmakers in the House of Representatives.

Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, who was among those who filed the complaint against the judges, said that the JBC acted with "indecent enthusiasm" when nominating De Castro, Bersamin and Peralta when the complaint about the accusation had just been filed.

Lagman described the JBC nomination and the later appointment of De Castro by Duterte as & # 39; flawed & # 39 ;.

"It is a hollow and self-righteous rhetoric to claim that the JBC does not have to take into account the disqualification of the nominees on the shortlist because the accusations against them are not awaiting any action in Congress, on the contrary, the tendency of a complaint is counted from the beginning with the filing of the complaint or action in the right forum, "he said.

Lagman cited jurisprudence that an action is considered "pending the start of the final judgment."

Lagman's opposition leader Tom Villarin of Akbayan said that the appointment of Duterte of De Castro "shows the depth of the abyss that the rule of law of our country has fallen."

"I congratulate them both for packing the" typical bootlick price. "Never in the history of modern democracy was such a flagrant disdain for decency 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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