DECEMBER 7, 2006 (STAR) Supreme Court Associate Justice Reynato Puno was appointed by President Arroyo as the country’s new Chief Justice yesterday, replacing Artemio Panganiban.

Puno was expected to be sworn in by the President at Malacañang late last night.

He was one of the SC justices who voted in favor of a people’s initiative to amend the 1987 Constitution. The petition was junked by the high court.

Earlier, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita earlier said the President was likely to announce a successor to Panganiban "on time so as not to provide a hiatus between the outgoing Chief Justice and the incoming Chief Justice."

There were reports that the formal announcement of a new chief justice was delayed due to the last-minute lobbying of Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, one of the contenders for the post.

Santiago was supposed to meet with Mrs. Arroyo last night to discuss her exclusion from the shortlist of the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC).

Santiago called on the President to defer the appointment of Panganiban’s replacement after she was not nominated by the JBC. Santiago said the JBC erred when they did not include her in the shortlist submitted to Malacañang and accused Panganiban as behind the plot.

She told reporters that she would also re-assert her support for constitutional assembly which is now being discussed at the House of Representatives. Retirement rites Panganiban, who turned 70 years old at midnight yesterday, bid the officials and employees of the SC farewell sans the traditional presence of the President.

Mrs. Arroyo’s absence from Panganiban’s retirement rites show a marked contrast with the retirement rites of former Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr. last year, which were attended by the President and former President Corazon Aquino, among other luminaries.

In his valedictory speech, Panganiban said that now that he is retired from government service, he will devote his time to his family: "To my wife, my children and grandchildren, I know I have been an absentee husband, father and grandfather during the last 11 years. From tomorrow onwards, with the blessings of retirement, I pledge to be a more caring husband, a more attentive father and a more doting grandfather. I promise to pursue more fervently my APOStolate — nine of them: three boys and six girls. To all of you, I dedicate my eleven books. After all, I wrote them in the evenings, on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays — days and times that should have been devoted to you."

Panganiban said serving as chief justice is a blessing of enormous value for himself: "Thank you very much to everyone who has made this miracle possible. Indeed, in this serene and majestic temple of justice of our country, I celebrate my fervent thanksgiving."

He also thanked the President for naming him chief justice, saying: "Let it be on record that President Arroyo had not asked me to do anything in return for that momentous event. In fact, she had not even spoken with me at any time prior to my appointment.

"I learned of her choice only after it had been announced before media, on the evening of December 20, 2005 by the President’s spokesperson, Secretary Ignacio Bunye," he said. "At that time, I was addressing an appreciation dinner in honor of Supreme Court employees who helped in ensuring the success of our then recently concluded International Conference and Showcase on Judicial Reform, when the emcee interrupted me to say that Channel 7 had just aired the announcement."

Panganiban also thanked former President Fidel Ramos for appointing him as a justice of the Supreme Court in 1992.

He also said he appreciated the individual and collective efforts of his colleagues in the Supreme Court who helped him attain his vow to lead a judiciary characterized by "independence, integrity, industry and intelligence."

"One that is morally courageous to resist influence, interference, indifference and insolence and is impervious to what I call the plague of ships, kinship, relationship, friendship and fellowship," Panganiban said.

Panganiban also thanked the late founder of The Philippine STAR Betty Go-Belmonte and the late STAR publisher, Max Soliven, for their support.

It was Panganiban’s court which promulgated three landmark decisions in cases involving liberty and prosperity during its summer session in Baguio City.

In particular, the Panganiban court struck down as unconstitutional the Arroyo administration’s Calibrated Preemptive Response (Bayan Muna v. Ermita), certain provisions of Executive Order No. 464 (Senate v. Ermita) and Presidential Proclamation No. 1017 (Davide v. Arroyo).

Last October, the Panganiban Court dismissed the petition for a people’s initiative to amend the 1987 Constitution (Lambino v. Comelec).

Panganiban is also the concurrent ex-officio chair of the JBC.

Under Panganiban’s stewardship, the JBC revitalized the Bench and the Bar by holding dialogues on the recruitment of judges with various sectors, particularly lawyers’ groups, with the action plan to "search better, screen better and select better."

The first Chief Justice to be appointed in the 21st century, Panganiban is also the first law graduate of the Far Eastern University (FEU) to have been appointed as Chief Magistrate. He graduated cum laude from FEU in 1960 and placed 6th in the Bar examinations held that same year.

In their plaque of acclamation for Panganiban, the incumbent members of the high court said Panganiban is the "renaissance jurist."

"Indeed, his watch as Chief Justice ushered a judicial renaissance, during which the Court set new and loftier standards for adjudication and reform. Through his exemplary devotion to his public duties and commitment to excellence and ethics, not to mention his unique and unquenchable zest for life, wisdom, wit, grace and good humor, he leaves behind a Supreme court and a judiciary whose independence, integrity, credibility and prestige have attained record heights fully recognized nationally and globally. Now, therefore, in testimony of the foregoing, we his colleagues acclaim him as the renaissance jurist," the High Court justices said.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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