MANILA, Philippines (5th UPDATE) – Serafin Cuevas, a former Supreme Court associate justice and preeminent lawyer, died Sunday, February 9, the Supreme Court (SC) said. He was 85.
The SC announced Cuevas’ death in a tweet Monday, February 10. The Philippine flag at the SC in Padre Faura, Manila, has been flown half-staff, it added.
Cuevas – whose career has spanned more than 6 decades – is known for handling 3 impeachment cases in the country, the last being the case against former SC chief justice Renato Corona where he stood as the lead defense counsel.
He was also the lead defense counsel of then Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, whose impeachment trial was aborted in early 2011 after she resigned, and one of the lawyers of deposed President Joseph Estrada during his impeachment trial in 2001.
Cuevas served as justice secretary under the Estrada administration from July 1, 1998 to Feb 15, 2000.
Cuevas became a High Court magistrate under then President Ferdinand Marcos, serving as the Supreme Court’s 106th Associate Justice from June 1, 1984 to April 16, 1986.
He was designated by then Chief Justice Fred Ruiz Castro as chairman of the SC committee that drafted the trial court manual.
He graduated with a degree in Law at the University of the Philippines in 1952, and passed the Bar examinations the same year.
He was a member of the Sigma Rho Fraternity.
Cuevas was born on June 25, 1928 in Bacoor, Cavite, and was a member of the religious organization Iglesia ni Cristo (INC).
“On behalf of the administration, we condole with the passing of the late Justice Serafin Cuevas. He has been an eminent jurist and a well-respected member of the legal community, as well as the academic community, and while he has represented the interest adverse to the government, we have always shown our respect with each other, and we truly mourn the passing of Justice Serafin Cuevas,” Malacañang said on Monday.
Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda also said it was not yet certain whether President Benigno Aquino III would attend Cuevas’ wake.
For Estrada, now mayor of Manila, it was “an honor” to have Cuevas as one of his Cabinet members.
“Justice Serafin Cuevas was undoubtedly one of the most brilliant legal minds in the country. I appointed him Justice Secretary when I was president because he was a man of competence and unquestionable integrity,” Estrada said in a statement.
Cuevas’ fellow Cabinet members were also mourning his passing.
“Justice Cuevas’ passing away is not just a great loss to his family but to the legal profession and the whole nation as well,” a statement from the former Cabinet officials, through former Labor chief Bienvenido Laguesma, said.
“As an outstanding member of the Estrada Cabinet, he served our country distinctly. We were indeed privileged to have worked with him. Our deepest condolences to his bereaved family and loved ones,” the statement added.
Lawyers from both sides of the the Corona impeachment trial are also mourning the loss of the legal luminary.
Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno said Cuevas was only known to the younger generation “by what they saw during his most recent high-profile litigation, the man in white holding court before a nationwide audience.”
She, however, got to know him “as a brilliant teacher at the University of the Philippines, from where he finished his law degree and where he first made a mark in many law students’ hearts and minds.” She added: “Every student who sat through his classes, regardless of the grade they got, would have one conclusion: he was a brilliant teacher.”
Cuevas’ remains will lie in state at the Sanctuarium along Araneta Avenue in Quezon City. Visitors can start paying their respects only starting 12 noon of Tuesday, February 11. Interment will be at the family mausoleum on Friday, February 14. – with reports from Purple Romero and Reynaldo Santos Jr/Rappler.com
(Editors’ Note: In an earlier version of this story, we wrote that Chief Justice Sereno testified in the impeachment trial of her predecessor Renato Corona. We have corrected the error.)