MANILA, Philippines – What has Teresita Leonardo de Castro done in her really short term as Chief Justice?
Ask judiciary workers, especially the Supreme Court (SC) employees who gave her a red carpet farewell on Monday, October 8, complete with balloons and a marching band.
Promotions, salary raises, and bonuses marked De Castro’s chief justiceship that lasted only a little more than a month.
“We have upgraded the salary of our first-level courts, in keeping with the heavy responsibility that they perform,” De Castro said in her speech on Monday, her last flag-raising ceremony before she officially retires on Wednesday, October 10, her 70th birthday.
De Castro continued, “We have granted overtime pay not only to stenographers but also other court employees who are helping in the continuous trial of cases.” (READ: The test of legacy for Chief Justice De Castro)
In a swipe at Maria Lourdes Sereno, who was criticized for allegedly keeping vacant positions open for a long time, De Castro also said: “We have promoted immediately our career officials as vacant positions occur. We have also opened up the positions of assistant chiefs of office, numerous positions (that went) unfilled for many years, in order to not disrupt the delivery of public service when a chief of office is promoted or retires.”
To cap it all, De Castro announced that SC employees will be receiving extra bonuses. (Additional fringe benefits subject to tax, clarified later by the Public Information Office)
“Today, for your dedicated service to the Court, and for your hard work, you will again receive a token of appreciation. It comes not only from me but also from justices of the Court who have been very supportive in seeing to it that your welfare and well-being are served,” said the outgoing Chief Justice.
Internal and external perception
The scene on Monday again painted the glaring difference of perception when it comes to the Supreme Court.
The live stream of her speech gathered angry reactions, with disparaging comments against the justice who was most vocal against Sereno.
But inside the SC grounds, it was jubilation.
So it made sense that De Castro’s farewell speech addressed mostly the employees in the judiciary. It was a moment that meant the most to people from within the institution.
In a loaded message, De Castro said: “I think the employees and the officials of the Court equally deserve appreciation from the justices. You have (stood) up with courage in supporting the justices regardless of any personal inconvenience or risk on your part.”
De Castro was joined during the ceremony by Associate Justices Diosdado Peralta, Mariano del Castillo, Estela Perlas Bernabe, Francis Jardeleza, Benjamin Caguioa, Noel Tijam, and Andres Reyes Jr, as well as retired justice Adolfo Azcuna.
Since being appointed Chief Justice by President Rodrigo Duterte on August 25, De Castro’s most notable concurrences have to do with the vice-presidential electoral protest pending at the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET).
She concurred in the unanimous decision that set aside the voting threshold in the recount, which benefits Vice President Leni Robredo more than the protestant Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.
De Castro also concurred in another unanimous decision to reject Marcos’ bid to have Associate Justice Benjamin Caguioa inhibit from the case.
De Castro concurred as well in the unanimous decision to acquit a drug suspect in Cagayan de Oro, a high-stakes decision that gave a tall order to lower courts and prosecution to strictly follow procedure in chain of custody and prevent the planting of evidence by law enforcement.
The Court has not disclosed until now who voted to deny Senator Antonio Trillanes IV a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) against the presidential proclamation that voided his amnesty.
De Castro will preside over her last en banc session on Tuesday, October 9, and also preside over her last oral arguments. Tuesday will be the continuation of the oral arguments on President Rodrigo Duterte’s unilateral withdrawal from the International Criminal Court (ICC).
“We had to chart the course of Philippine jurisprudence in the course of our work,” said De Castro on Monday.
De Castro helped uphold the plunder charge of Jinggoy Estrada in a narrow 6-4-4 decision. It was also she who convicted Joseph Estrada of plunder as a justice of the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan.
But for her critics, De Castro helped give a hero’s burial to the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, and helped secure an acquittal for Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and bail for Juan Ponce Enrile – both charged with plunder.
A review of key decisions also showed De Castro had a tendency to favor the executive branch of politicians. (READ: #CJSearch: How did aspirants vote on key Supreme Court decisions?)
And in a controversial decision that led a United Nations prober to declare that the independence of the judiciary is under attack, De Castro will be remembered as having helped oust a chief justice in what many law experts call as the unconstitutional mode of quo warranto.
Whether she likes it or not, Sereno will always form a part of the De Castro narrative.
It is also forever part of the story of the Philippine judiciary, for better or for worse.
But as De Castro bids goodbye, you get the sense that apart from the decisions she handed down, the relationships she built matter to her as much.
“I tried my best so that my presence will be most felt, not only by the employees of the Court, but also by our judges and justices nationwide. I hope you felt it,” De Castro said.
It was met with applause.
De Castro beamed, satisfied. – Rappler.com