By Jeffrey Damicog
Supreme Court Justice Teresita Leonardo-de Castro has been picked by President Duterte as the new Chief Justice.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra revealed this Saturday, a day after the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) released its shortlist of candidates for the position vacated by former Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, who was ousted through a quo warranto case.
“Justice De Castro is the new CJ,” Guevarra, the ex officio vice chairperson of the JBC, told reporters Saturday.
De Castro has only over a month to serve as Chief Justice since she is set to retire on October 8 when she reaches the mandatory retirement age of 70 years old.
Guevarra believes De Castro deserves the appointment for the vacant post.
“Her appointment as Chief Justice is a fitting finale to her illustrious career in both the Department of Justice and the judiciary,” said Guevarra.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said Malacañang is happy with De Castro’s appointment.
“Bravo! Best choice for CJ! Proven competence, known nationalist and a streak of being a judicial activist!”Roque said in a text message to Palace reporters.
In the shortlist announced Friday, De Castro, along with Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta, got the highest vote from the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) with six votes each. Associate Justice Lucas Bersamin, on the other hand, got five votes.
The JBC is tasked under the Constitution to screen applicants for the judiciary and come up with a shortlist from which the President selects his appointees.
The other aspirants who did not make it to the shortlist are SC Associate Justice Andres Reyes Jr. and Tagum City regional trial court (RTC) Judge Virginia Tehano-Ang.
Guevarra revealed that Ang got disqualified by the JBC “because of an adverse finding and recommendation in her administrative case.”
“There’s also an unwritten rule that a judge cannot apply for a judicial position two levels higher, i.e., from MTC (Metropolitan Trial Court) to CA (Court of Appeals), or from RTC to SC,” he added.
De Castro is among seven justices who are facing impeachment complaints filed by four lawmakers for culpable violation of the Constitution when they ousted Sereno by voting in favor of the quo warranto petition filed by Solicitor General Jose Calida.
The other justices were Peralta, Bersamin, Francis Jardeleza, Noel Tijam, Andres Reyes Jr., and Alexander Gesmundo.
But Guevarra said the complaint did not disqualify the magistrates from the running for Chief Justice because it has not matured into an impeachment case.
De Castro was appointed SC Justice by then President and now Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on Dec. 7, 2007.
The magistrate sought to become successor of the late Chief Justice Renato Corona in 2012 but got beaten by Sereno, who was picked by then President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III.
Prior becoming SC Justice, De Castro was Sandiganbayan Associate Justice from 1997 and became Sandiganbayan Presiding Justice in 2004.
De Castro headed the anti-graft court’s special division on the perjury and plunder trial of former President Joseph Estrada. Estrada’s son, Senator Jinggoy Estrada also faced charges that time. Estrada was found guilty of plunder and sentenced to life imprisonment but acquitted of the perjury charges. All his co-defendants, including Jinggoy, were acquitted of all charges.
Following his conviction, Estrada branded the court “a kangaroo court,”and appeal the conviction.
During her stint at the Sandiganbayan, she was awarded the Chief Justice Hilario G. Davide Judicial Reform Award.
De Castro, who is currently the president of the Philippine Women Judges Association (PWJA), was one of the top four law graduates of the University of the Philippines (UP) College of Law in 1972.
Her career in public service began on February 19, 1973 when she joined the SC as law clerk in the SC’s Office of the Clerk of Court.
During her time at the SC in the 1970s, she also became a Legal/Judicial Assistant and a member of the technical staff of the late Chief Justice Fred Ruiz Castro.
In December, 1978, she transferred to the Department of Justice (DOJ) where she served 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 former Presidents Corazon Aquino and Fidel Ramos from 1988 to 1997.
In 1998, she was awarded by then President Ramos with the Presidential Medal of Merit for Exceptionally
Meritorious and Valuable Service Rendered and Remarkable Accomplishments that have served the interest of peace, unity and progress in Southern Philippines, earning her the gratitude and admiration of the Filipino nation and the people.