[PHOTO -Newly appointed Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno greets her staff on her first day of work at the Supreme Court yesterday]

MANILA, AUGUST 30, 2012 (PHILSTAR) By Edu Punay - Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno started her 18-year term yesterday by allowing the full disclosure of her statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) for 2011.

The Supreme Court (SC), according to an insider, approved the release of Sereno’s SALN during a full-court session over which she presided for the first time as the 24th chief justice and first woman appointed to the fifth highest post in the land.

The source said it was Sereno herself who sought approval of the release of her SALN during full-court session, based on new rules on the release of SALNs of justices and judges.

Her SALN, however, was not released in the afternoon due to “pressing work demand,” the SC public information office said. The document is expected to be made public today.

Sereno and other aspirants for the chief justice post had submitted their SALNs to the Judicial and Bar Council during the screening process. They were, however, not made public because of a confidentiality rule.

Earlier this year, she released a summary of her SALN for 2010 that showed a total net worth of more than P17.8 million.

Her predecessor Renato Corona was removed from the top judicial post by the Senate impeachment court last May 29 for culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust for failing to declare all his wealth in his SALN.

SC divisions reshuffled

During closed-door session yesterday, the justices also decided to defer resolution of pending cases until their next meeting to give way to the reshuffle of members of the different court divisions.

Sereno, as chief justice, becomes the chair of the first division with Justice Teresita Leonardo-de Castro as working chair and Justices Lucas Bersamin, Martin Villarama Jr. and Bienvenido Reyes as members.

Senior Justice Antonio Carpio, who was bypassed the second time around with Sereno’s appointment, remains as chair of the second division with Justices Arturo Brion, Mariano del Castillo, Jose Perez and Estela Perlas-Bernabe as members.

The third division is chaired by Justice Presbitero Velasco with Justices Diosdado Peralta, Roberto Abad and Jose Mendoza as members.

The reorganization was laid down in Sereno’s special order No. 1298.

Also yesterday, Sereno vowed to bring the judiciary back to its “golden days” when there was “dignified silence” in the halls of the SC.

The new SC chief has declined requests for interviews from media outfits even after promising to institute reforms and transparency in the high court.

Sereno explained a “dignified silence” is intended “to minimize susceptibility to misinterpretation.”

“Wisdom seeks me to return the Supreme Court to its days of dignified silence – when its justices were heard when read through their writings, and when actions of the Court were best seen in their collective resolutions,” she stressed.

The chief justice also explained that granting media interviews might distract her from “more fundamental and urgent problems besetting the judiciary.”

She stressed the judiciary is “not a political branch of government.”

She stressed the high tribunal’s commitment is “to be deliberate, accurate, sober and carefully balanced before arriving at its decisions and in the presentation of such decisions.”

“We will seek ways on how to best respond to the needs of media for accurate and timely information,” she vowed.

Corona, her predecessor, was more open to media interviews. He personally visited radio and TV programs to explain his “midnight appointment” as well as his answers to issues raised against him during his impeachment trial.

The SC has a spokesperson tasked to deal with the media and who is coterminous with the chief justice. Sereno has yet to name a new spokesperson as she extended the term of acting spokesperson Ma. Victoria Gleoresty Guerra “until further orders.”

In the long history of the high court, there have been only two spokespersons, the first being Ismael Khan, followed by now Court Administrator Jose Midas Marquez.

While SC employees warmly received Sereno, militant groups gathered outside the SC building on Padre Faura in Manila to protest her appointment. They branded her an “Aquino puppet.”

The protesters led by Anakpawis echoed the fear of farmers of Hacienda Luisita that the ruling ordering total distribution of the 4,915.75-hectare hacienda might be reversed under Sereno’s watch.

Sereno pegged the land valuation based on the fair market value of the property in 2006, or P2.45 million per hectare. Corona wanted the computation based on the 1989 value or just P40,000 per hectare. His opinion prevailed after getting the support of the majority of the justices, but he was impeached by allies of Aquino in the House a month later.

No turning back

There is nothing critics can do to make President Aquino change his mind about appointing Sereno, whom he wants to carry out reforms in the judiciary over the next 18 years.

“I think those attacks are really water under the bridge. The appointment has already been made,” presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said.

“She has taken her oath and whether it’s coming from the judiciary or not, they have to deal with the new chief justice,” Lacierda pointed out.

“I think any criticism against the Chief Justice are – for all intents and purposes – irrelevant. It’s not going to sway anyone from removing her from the position of chief justice,” Lacierda explained.

“The constitutional prerogative of the President in appointing Sereno has been exercised. Now, as to any further criticism on the Chief Justice, it will be up to the SC public information office to speak on her behalf,” he added.

Lacierda said what’s important is the 52-year-old Chief Justice’s capability to implement reforms in the judiciary.

Sereno’s term will cover four presidents, starting from Aquino.

“We’re optimistic that she will be up to the job in implementing and institutionalizing reforms in the judiciary, being there for a good 18 years, that would be sufficient time for any reform to take root,” Lacierda maintained.

“I think the critics would have a better way of channeling their frustration instead of criticizing anonymously Chief Justice Sereno. The best thing they can do is to work towards helping her implement the reforms that are badly needed in the judiciary,” he said.

Vice President Jejomar Binay, for his part, asked Sereno’s critics to give her a chance to prove herself.

“Let’s give her a chance to prove herself. It’s very challenging... Let’s double our prayers for her to do good as chief justice,” Binay told reporters.

“The selection of an insider is right because there is a protocol there. There are do’s and dont’s,” Binay said. “She has one of the best qualifications, academic qualifications, among others.”

‘Disenchantment’ temporary

For Sen. Franklin Drilon, the reported disenchantment within the Supreme Court over the appointment of Sereno would only be temporary.

Sereno is the country’s first female chief justice and the second youngest. She is also slated to become the second longest serving chief magistrate next to Cayetano Arellano.

“Disenchantment is natural but I think it’s only temporary. I believe Chief Justice Sereno will be able to overcome this disenchantment if she is able to implement reforms in the judiciary,” Drilon said.

He said Sereno’s long term in office would help her carry out reforms more effectively.

“Reforms take time, this cannot be done overnight. The judicial ship must be turned around slowly because an abrupt change can cause the judicial ship to capsize,” Drilon said.

He said the reforms should include ways to unclog the dockets of the courts and facilitate the hiring of more judges.

“This is a golden opportunity (to reform the judiciary) presented by the President who made a game-changing appointment,” Drilon said.

“There is a need for stability in the judiciary,” he added.

Sen. Francis Escudero said the newly installed Chief Justice should restore the public’s trust in the judicial system by speeding up the dispensation of justice and hiring more lawyers of integrity.

Zambales Rep. Mitos Magsaysay congratulated Sereno for being the first woman to be appointed to the top SC post and urged the chief magistrate to prove her critics wrong.

“All eyes are on the Supreme Court now and it is up to Chief Justice Sereno to show that she is independent and will not be beholden to the President who appointed her into office,” Magsaysay said. “With several controversial cases still in the back burner and many judicial reforms waiting to be implemented, Sereno will have her work cut out for her.”

“People are closely keeping an eye on her next move and they will not accept a Supreme Court with obvious leanings toward any administration,” she added. – Delon Porcalla, Marvin Sy, Paolo Romero, Eva Visperas, Jose Rodel Clapano

De Lima: No to any SC post By Edu Punay (The Philippine Star) Updated August 29, 2012 12:00 AMComments (19)

MANILA, Philippines - Justice Secretary Leila de Lima (photo) said yesterday she will no longer contend for the vacancy in the Supreme Court (SC) left by the promotion of Ma. Lourdes Sereno to chief justice last Friday.

“I am not interested in that associate justice post,” she told The STAR.

De Lima said she has decided not to seek appointment to the SC and instead focus on her duties as secretary of justice.

“I need to focus and double my efforts as SOJ, especially now that Sec. Jesse (Robredo) is gone,” she said.

The Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) disqualified De Lima for the chief justice post due to pending disbarment cases against her.

JBC members reportedly said she could be a top contender for the new vacancy in the high court since she now has more time to secure clearance from the Integrated Bar of the Philippines.

De Lima personally congratulated Sereno, saying she was “a good choice.”

Still, the popular Cabinet member admitted she is not closing her doors to a possible slot in the senatorial ticket of the ruling Liberal Party (LP) of President Aquino, which offered her last year a slot in the lineup for next year’s polls.

“No such plans yet,” she said when asked on this possibility.

De Lima bared last October that she was offered by LP president and Transportation Secretary Manuel Roxas II during the 37th Philippine Business Conference and Expo at Manila Hotel to join the administration’s senatorial lineup.

De Lima admitted she was “very flattered” by the offer that came “completely unexpected,” but also expressed concern that it might invite insinuation from critics on how the Department of Justice would resolve pending cases against former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

She earlier admitted that she is open to seeking an elective position.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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