[PHOTO - Justice Maria Lourdes Punzalan Aranal-Sereno takes her oath today at Malacañang]

MANILA, AUGUST 25, 2012 (PHILSTAR) By Aurea Calica -

MANILA, Philippines - President Aquino appointed yesterday Supreme Court Associate Justice Maria Lourdes Punzalan Aranal-Sereno as the 24th chief justice, the first woman to head the country’s highest tribunal.

Sereno is President Aquino’s first appointee to the Supreme Court (SC).

Among her notable votes in the SC are those in favor of the Cojuangcos on land valuation for Hacienda Luisita, and against the departure of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo ostensibly for treatment abroad.

At 52, Sereno is the second youngest chief magistrate after Manuel Moran, who was appointed at 51.

Sereno is slated to become the second longest serving chief magistrate – for 18 years, or until she reaches the mandatory retirement age of 70.

Pre-war chief justice Cayetano Arellano served for 18 years and 10 months.

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said Aquino signed the appointment of Sereno yesterday and it was immediately transmitted to her office.

Sereno replaced Renato Corona, who was removed from office by the Senate sitting as an impeachment court.

Corona was ousted for failing to disclose all his assets before the public.

“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 (Sereno),” Lacierda said in a statement.

“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,” Lacierda said.

President’s prerogative

He said the President had interviewed all the candidates for chief justice and that there should be no reason for older justices to feel bypassed.

Lacierda disclosed the President met with Sereno yesterday at around 3:30 p.m. at the Palace with Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr., Transportation Secretary Manuel Roxas II, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad and Justice Secretary Leila de Lima in attendance.

Lacierda said Sereno “was surprised” when told of her appointment personally by the President.

Lacierda said the Hacienda Luisita issue is already in the past and that the SC decision can no longer be overturned.

“I think based on his evaluation, that is the assessment the President has taken – that he is confident and optimistic that she will be able to implement the reforms,” Lacierda said.

“The Supreme Court itself said they will not entertain any other motion… Again, that was not a consideration in appointing the chief justice. The President mentioned to me that although we are in deep mourning over the loss of Secretary Robredo, he has a constitutional mandate to appoint a new chief justice. And therefore today, he exercised that constitutional mandate to appoint a chief justice,” he said.

“On the fears (that the SC will be an) Aquino court, remember the appointees of the President are only Justice Sereno, Justice (Bienvenido) Reyes, Justice (Estela Perlas-) Bernabe. They are only so far three,” Lacierda said.

“I think the President has a constitutional prerogative to appoint who he believes should lead the Supreme Court. So in his evaluation I would always say again the President believes that Justice Sereno will be the person most capable of (carrying out) those reforms,” Lacierda said.

Independence assured

In a brief interview at the SC lobby last night, Sereno expressed her gratitude to the President for her appointment.

“First of all, I give all the glory to God. To the President, I thank you very much,” she said.

She also thanked the media “for partnering with us in the judiciary” as she vowed to give more lengthy statement in the coming days.

Sereno vowed to be independent and follow the leadership style of Robredo.

Aquino named her associate justice in August 2010 to fill a vacancy.

Born on July 2, 1960, Sereno is a graduate of the Ateneo de Manila University with a degree in Bachelor of Arts in Economics in 1980. She obtained her Bachelor of Laws (cum laude, class valedictorian) from the University of the Philippines College of Law in 1984, and took her Master of Law at the University of Michigan Law School in 1993.

She is married to Mario Jose Sereno.

Sereno was a co-counsel of former SC justice Florentino Feliciano in the Fraport case before the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes in Washington and in the case against Philippine International Air Terminals Corp. (Piatco). Both cases were resolved in favor of the Philippine government.

Sereno was a Ten Outstanding Women in the Nation’s Service (TOWNS) awardee for law in 1998.

Since 2000, Sereno has been a faculty member of the Philippine Judicial Academy, teaching civil law, negotiable instruments law and international trade law.

She was also a faculty member at The Hague Academy of International Law in Cambodia in November 2004 and is currently executive director of the Asian Institute of Management Policy Center.

She penned the SC decision nullifying the proclamation of a state of emergency in Sulu in 2009 after the kidnapping of three members of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

She also penned the ruling last February that upheld the conviction of members of the Aquila Legis fraternity at the Ateneo Law School for the fatal hazing of neophyte Lenny Villa during initiation rites in February 1991.

It was reported she scored lowest among the 20 bets for chief justice in the psychological exam conducted by the Judicial and Bar Council.

In the summary of her statements of assets and liabilities for 2010, Sereno declared total assets of P17,904,510.14 and total liabilities of P142,342.88 for a total net worth of P17,762,167.26 for the year 2010.

It was also reported that she took a share of the P2.65 billion paid by the government to the legal team that handled the case involving Fraport AG and Piatco.

In her interview with the JBC, Sereno batted for the appointment of an insider, saying that having an outsider would be like sending a civilian to lead troops in battle.

In her interview, Sereno said she was opposed to a “personalistic” leadership of the SC, stressing she advocates a “community-based” vision for the high court.

Sereno said throughout her 25 years of practicing law, she had seen people try “bending the law” only to realize “it is not worth doing” as “it will haunt you.”

“Our duty is to give the young generation hope, not to make them cynical,” she said of her background as educator.

On the Hacienda Luisita issue, Sereno said she was not necessarily against the farmers when she voted in April that the Cojuangcos should get just compensation based on 2006 valuation of the land and not on 1989 rates as claimed by the farmers.

Her vote, along with five other dissenting magistrates, lost against the majority’s eight votes, who set just compensation at 1989 real property rates.

Sereno said that while she acknowledged there was “historic injustice” in the Hacienda Luisita land dispute, there is no way she could correct it.

“The Supreme Court is not in a position to correct a historic injustice if it is not in conformity with the law,” she said.

“It is not our role to make policy choices. Our duty is to apply the law and make sure it conforms with the Constitution,” she added.

Some JBC members had openly expressed their admiration for Sereno.

“You are to me a living proof that there is justice in our jurisdiction,” said Undersecretary Michael Frederick Musngi, who temporarily sat in for Justice Leila de Lima, who inhibited from the JBC because she was vying for the chief justice post.

At one point, JBC member and retired Supreme Court Justice Regino Hermosisima praised Sereno for giving “the most adequate” answers. – With Edu Punay

Corona: Sereno appointment speaks for itself By Edu Punay (The Philippine Star) Updated August 25, 2012 12:00 AMComments (10)

MANILA, Philippines - Ousted chief justice Renato Corona (photo) was noncommittal yesterday on the designation of Ma. Lourdes Sereno as his replacement, saying only, “The appointment speaks for itself.”

Sereno is President Aquino’s first appointee to the Supreme Court (SC). Her new designation beats the deadline on Monday for Aquino to name Corona’s successor since the chief magistrate was removed from office on May 29 by the Senate impeachment court.

While several sectors welcomed Sereno’s designation, Hacienda Luisita workers condemned the appointment, saying she favors the landowners, the Cojuangco clan.

Sereno voted in favor of the Cojuangcos on land valuation for Hacienda Luisita. She is also Aquino’s first appointee to the SC.

“This is injustice for us. We will be very vigilant now since the gains we achieved might be put to waste with her appointment,” said Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura secretary-general Rodel Mesa.

Mesa said several of their members will be going to the SC today to show their disgust over the appointment.

Earlier, they called on the next SC chief justice not to tamper with the April 24 decision that ordered the distribution of the controversial sugar estate to its farmworker-beneficiaries.

“The important thing is he or she would not tamper with the Hacienda Luisita verdict. Any attempt to hamper or to reverse the ruling would affect the institution’s credibility,” said Mesa.

He added they would assert the actual and physical distribution of Hacienda Luisita to its 6,296 beneficiaries.

Bagong Alyansang Makabayan secretary-general Renato Reyes called on the public to exercise continued vigilance regarding the new chief justice.

House leadership supportive of Sereno

Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said Sereno was the wise choice for chief justice.

Belmonte called on all sectors to rally behind the newly appointed chief justice, relatively new to the SC but an insider.

“She has a good reputation for competence and independence,” he said.

Deputy Speaker and Quezon Rep. Lorenzo Tañada III said “there will be stability in the SC for at least 18 years and true reforms may be implemented.”

Ang Kasangga party-list Rep. Teodorico Haresco said the appointment was “a fresh wind that will ventilate the musky corridors of judicial power.”

“Sereno is charmingly beautiful and would need this trait in traipsing the judicial world of men towards genuine reforms and the nation’s leap to developed economic status,” he said.

Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III said he hopes to see a more vibrant judiciary under Sereno.

Sen. Francis Escudero, an ex-officio member of the Judicial and Bar Council, congratulated the new appointee and wished her well in her implementation of much-needed reforms in the judiciary.

Senators Francis Pangilinan and Franklin Drilon said the appointment was well-deserved and historical and both expect Sereno “will invigorate the moribund and antiquated justice system of the country.”

Another SC vacancy

Meanwhile, Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) national president Roan Libarios lauded President Aquino’s choice.

“She is among the top choices of the IBP. She placed second in the mock polls held by the IBP last month. We believe she will be a reform-oriented chief justice,” he said in an interview.

But the IBP head reminded the new chief justice of her duty to “keep the SC an independent branch of government.”

With the promotion of Sereno as chief justice, the JBC will start a new selection process for the associate justice post that she vacated.

Lawyer Jose Mejia, JBC member from academe, said the President cannot choose Sereno’s replacement from the shortlist submitted for the chief justice post.

“The vacancy and call for application will be published soon,” he said in a text message. – With Rhodina Villanueva, Paolo Romero, Marvin Sy

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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