Justice Lourdes Sereno: defying tradition

SC Justice Lourdes Sereno has voted in favor of the Aquino administration on key political cases

THE DISSENTER. Sereno has often seen herself in the minority, not only in decisions but in controversial issues that hound the Court. Source: http://sc.judiciary.gov.ph/

MANILA, Philippines – The first appointee of President Benigno Aquino III at the Supreme Court has stirred up the judiciary with her candid disclosure and criticism of the High Court’s inner workings. 

Now 52 years old, Sereno, if appointed, will stay for 18 years at the post. A nominee for chief justice, Sereno will face the Judicial and Bar Council on Friday, July 27, for a public interview.

Sereno defied tradition when she revealed in her Dec 13, 2011 dissent how then Chief Justice Renato Corona allegedly blocked the promulgation of her earlier dissent in a case involving former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. 

In her dissenting opinion, Sereno wrote that Corona’s version of the resolution did not truthfully reflect the High Court’s vote in November 2011, which suspended the implementation of a temporary restraining order (TRO) issued in Arroyo’s favor. Sereno detailed in her dissent that the SC voted 7-6 for the suspension following Arroyo’s non-compliance with one of the conditions attached to the TRO. Corona, in the resolution that was eventually promulgated, wrote otherwise.

Sereno also openly criticized then SC spokesman Jose Midas Marquez. In the same December 2011 dissent, Sereno said Marquez wrongly interpreted the Court’s action. She went on to advise the SC spokesman “not to go beyond his role in such offices, and that [he] has no authority to interpret any of our judicial issuances, including the present Resolution, a function he never had from the beginning.” 

It wasn’t the first time that Sereno exposed alleged loopholes in the Court’s procedures and deliberations.

In 2010, she, along with Justice Antonio Carpio, said that the Court issued a status quo ante order in favor of then Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez even if some of the justices had not yet seen the petition. 

Competence

Dispensed 136 cases from May 2011-May 2012

  • Penned 67 decisions from May 2011-May 2012 
  • Wrote 79 separate opinions from August 2010-June 2010
Qualifications 
  • Before being appointed to the SC in 2010, Sereno served as executive director of the Asian Institute Management from 2009-2010
  • Served as co-counsel in the government’s case involving the establishment of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport III
  • Commissioner and chair of the steering committee in the Preparatory Commission on Constitutional Reform in 1999 
  • Counsellor to the World Trade Organization Appellate Body in 1998
  • legal consultant from 1994-2008 for different government agencies (Office of the President, Department of Agriculture, Department of Trade and Industry, Office of the Solicitor General  
  •  UP law professor for 20 years 
  • Was named as one of the Outstanding Women in the Nation’s Service in the field of law in 1998 
  • Obtained Master of Laws degree from the University of Michigan in 1993 
  • Worked as junior associate in SyCip, Salazar, Feliciano and Hernandez law offices from 1985-1986
  • Finished law in UP, valedictorian, placed 14th in the Bar exams in 1984

Issues/controversies

Sereno is one of the two justices (the other one is Carpio) who released a summary of her 2009 and 2010 statement of assets, liabilities and net worth upon Rappler’s request in 2011. 

IS THIS ALL? Sereno declared P17 million in assets in her summary of statement of assets, liabilities and networth.

Samar Rep Ben Evardone, however, told the The Daily Tribune that he would consider filing an impeachment case against Sereno after the paper reported that she did not disclose P25-M worth of earnings from being part of the government’s legal team that arbitrated the case of the Philippine International Airport Terminals Co. (Piatco) in the International Chamber of Commerce in Singapore and Washington. Evardone is a member of Liberal Party, Aquino’s political party.

The Daily Tribune cited an affidavit executed by Edgar Dimayuga, Director lV of the Financial Management Service of the Office of the Solicitor General, which showed that legal fees for Sereno for her work in the Singapore case reached US$312,619.54, or P13.4-M and another $254,000 (P10.9-M) for the Washington ICC.

One of her rivals for the post of chief justice – Justice Roberto Abad – accused her of plagiarizing some of her work while she was in the academe and private sector. Abad wrote this in a separate opinion in the 2010 SC decision clearing Justice Mariano del Castillo of plagiarism (Del Castillo allegedly failed to attribute 3 international journals in his decision in a case involving comfort women). Sereno dissented in the SC ruling favoring Del Castillo. 

Sereno was cleared of plagiarism by a committee formed by the UP College of Economics, however. 

Cases filed against her 

A student filed a complaint against Sereno in 2003 for her alleged failure to attend classes in UP, where she was a professor. Then Chief Justice Renato Corona raised this in her public interview before the Judicial and Bar Council in 2010. Sereno said the student was asking for a change of grade from a failing mark of “5” to a passing rate of “3. The case was dismissed.

Independence

Sereno has voted in favor of the Aquino administration on key political cases. She was tapped as a witness by the prosecution in the impeachment case against Corona, but was barred by the SC from appearing before it.   

She said in her July 20 speech at the IBP forum on the search for the next chief justice that she voted against the Aquino administration in a case filed by Bai Omera Lucman of the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos questioning the constitutionality of Executive Order No.2, which invalidates all “midnight appointments” made by Arroyo. Sereno voted with the majority in issuing a status quo ante order against Lucman.

She also partially dissented in an SC decision upholding the postponement of the elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao from 2010 to 2013. Sereno voted with the majority who ruled that the postponement was valid, but said the President could only appoint an officer in charge for the gubernatorial position. – Rappler.com

(Sources: http://www.equalizerpost.com/2012/03/is-philippines-ready-for-lady-chief.html, personal data sheet, speech delivered at the IBP (Integrated Bar of the Philippines) forum on searching the next chief justice on July 20, curriculum vitae)

 

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