MANILA, Philippines – President Benigno Aquino III on Friday, October 4, appointed the most junior justice in the Sandiganbayan as its presiding justice, a Palace source confirmed to Rappler.
Sandiganbayan Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang will be replacing Francisco Villaruz, who retired as presiding justice on June 8.
The President signed Tang’s appoinment document on October 1, addressed to Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.
A former Assistant Solicitor General, Cabotaje-Tang bested 4 other nominees to the position, including Interior and Local Government Undersecretary Rafael Santos, a key ally of Interior Secretary Mar Roxas.
The other nominees were Court of Appeals Justice Apolinario Bruselas Jr, as well as Sandiganbayan justices Efren de la Cruz and Gregory Ong.
The anti-graft court is a key component of the President’s aggressive campaign against corruption in the country. At least two bills have been filed in the Senate by Aquino allies to reduce court backlog and fast-track the disposition of cases.
Insiders were hoping that the President would keep the tradition of respecting seniority “to preserve the peace” in the anti-graft court.
In Tang’s case, she bypassed two senior justices who were also nominees: De la Cruz and Ong.
It was Cabotaje-Tang, when she was Assistant Solicitor General, who filed the pleading opposing the maligned plea bargain deal between the Sandiganbayan and former military comptroller Maj. Gen. Carlos Garcia. She was appointed to the anti-graft court in June 2012.
Sandiganbayan watchers noted how the circumstances of Tang’s appointment were similar to Chief Justice Sereno’s – newly appointed but named chief, bypassing her seniors in the court.
Some of the President’s advisers believe that, like the Supreme Court, the anti-graft court needs a fresh face. The President made a radical move when he chose the replacement of dismissed Chief Justice Renato Corona in 2012. Sereno is not only the first female justice to be named head of the judiciary, she also bypassed senior justices and would be serving for 18 long years. – Rappler.com