MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – “You know someone will replace you. Give them the wherewithal to effect their vision… I try to lead by example. I might have the most power in the country, but I don’t want to exercise it unnecessarily.”
This is what President Benigno Aquino III told Rappler in a June 2012 interview, when asked if he would appoint a justice to replace Justice Martin Villarama, who is set to retire in April 2016.
By that time, Aquino will only have two months left in office, and the High Court – through its 2010 decision exempting the judiciary from the appointment ban – allows presidents to make an appointment even during the election period.
Aquino said he would let his successor make the appointment instead. This is something that his predecessor, former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, chose not to do when she insisted in appointing Renato Corona as chief justice two months before she stepped down from the presidency.
But on Friday, August 24, President Aquino made a radical move, naming the first female chief justice in Philippine history – and the youngest one in recent history.
In appointing the 52-year-old Justice Lourdes Sereno as chief justice, Mr Aquino effectively stripped the next 3 presidents of the chance to appoint the leader of the judiciary.
Barring impeachment, resignation or any untoward incident, Sereno will serve for 18 years until she reaches the mandatory retirement age of 70 in July 2030.
One previous chief justice had a longer term — 19 years: Cayetano Arellano, the first Supreme Court chief justice appointed in 1901 under the American Civil Government who retired in April 1920, according to reports.
Under the 1987 Constitution, Philippine presidents have a one-time term of 6 years. President Aquino steps down in 2016. His immediate successor will assume office in June 2016; the next president will take over in June 2022; and the next one will assume the presidency in June 2028.
Asked about concerns that Sereno would stay too long in the post, Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda said: “The Constitution mandates that for a member of the Supreme Court he can be or he should have the minimum age of 40 years old and retire at the age of 70. Therefore the Constitution anticipates the possibility of someone being appointed at an early age.”
He acknowledged that “this is the first time that someone as young as Justice Sereno, who’s only 52, has been appointed at that young age. Normally, you would appoint somebody who has less than 5 to 10 years in office before he or she retires or before he retires from the Supreme Court.”
But the President made the decision “after an assessment and evaluation” and with only one consideration – that Sereno would be able to “institute reforms in the judiciary,” Lacierda explained.
Lacierda expressed hope that “reforms will take root” in the judiciary with Sereno’s appointment.
Sereno’s appointment as chief justice creates a vacancy in the High Court and allows the President to again appoint another associate justice.
The Judicial and Bar Council – the body that screens and vets aspirants for judiciary positions – will have to officially declare the selection process open. The council is expected to meet on September 3.
Before he steps down in 2016, Aquino can appoint 3 more SC justices: Sereno’s replacement; the justice who will take over the seat of Justice Roberto Abad who is retiring in 2014; and – if he changes his mind – the new justice to replace Villarama in April, 2016.
By then, he will have appointed a total of 6 justices to the 15-person High Tribunal: Sereno, Justices Bienvenido Reyes and Estela Perlas-Bernabe, and the 3 future justices. – Rappler.com
More in #SCWatch:
- SC must return to ‘dignified days of silence’ – Sereno
- ‘Woman CJ not necessarily pro-woman’
- Sereno is 1st female chief justice
- 22 official candidates for Chief Justice
- JBC to interview CJ candidates starting July 24
- 25 accept nominations for chief justice
- Questions for chief justice candidates
- JBC should review process of choosing CJ
- Besides JBC, Palace has judicial search committee
- CONVERSATIONS: How should the JBC choose the next chief justice? #SCWatch