Teresita de Castro is new Supreme Court Chief Justice

NEW CHIEF MAGISTRATE. President Rodrigo Duterte favors Justice Teresita De Castro for the Supreme Court's top post. File photo by Darren Langit/Rappler

NEW CHIEF MAGISTRATE. President Rodrigo Duterte favors Justice Teresita De Castro for the Supreme Court's top post.

File photo by Darren Langit/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines (3RD UPDATE) – President Rodrigo Duterte has chosen Teresita Leonardo De Castro as the new Supreme Court Chief Justice replacing the ousted Maria Lourdes Sereno.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra confirmed this to Rappler on Saturday, August 25. 

"Her appointment as chief justice is a fitting finale to her illustrious career in both the Department of Justice and the judiciary," Guevarra said. 

According to the justice secretary, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea will release De Castro's formal appointment on Tuesday, August 28. 

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque hailed De Castro as the "best choice" for chief justice. (READ: FAST FACTS: Who is Chief Justice Teresita Leonard De Castro?)

Duterte favored De Castro over her fellow senior magistrates, Associate Justices Lucas Bersamin and Diosdado Peralta.

De Castro will be chief justice for less than two months since she retires on October 8. In her interview before the Judicial and Bar Council, she said her short term would not get in the way of her effectiveness as chief magistrate.  (READ: The test of legacy for Chief Justice De Castro)

'Best choice'

"Bravo! Best choice for CJ! Proven competence, known nationalist, and a streak of being a judicial activist!" he said on Saturday in a message to reporters. 

Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio, who had declined his nomination for chief justice, said he welcomed the appointment of De Castro.

Ombudsman Samuel Martires, who had worked with De Castro at the SC and the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan, said she "deserved it."

"I am so happy that the First Lady Chief Justice came from the Sandiganbayan and she was our Presiding Justice. I am proud to have worked with her. A strict but compassionate woman; a stickler to the rules, a good friend who will not mince words to tell the truth," Martires said.

Solicitor General Jose Calida congratulated De Castro on her "well-deserved" appointment.

"We are elated because her legal brilliance, competence, fairness and integrity ensure that justice will be well-served during her tenure," Calida said.

Many netizens, however, were dismayed by Duterte's choice while some lawmakers said her two-month stint as top magistrate had no "public value." (READ: New Chief Justice De Castro must prove  'independence, impartiality')

Seniority

Duterte's choice of De Castro reflects his tendency to prioritize seniority as a consideration in key appointments. De Castro is most senior among those in the JBC short list. This tendency of Duterte is also observed in his choice of military chiefs who are the most senior even if their terms will be short.

Respect for seniority has long defined the Supreme Court as an institution, one reason why Sereno's appointment as chief justice ruffled so many feathers. At the time of her appointment, Sereno was a junior justice. 

De Castro said she can accomplish a lot in two months, saying, “It’s not as if I’m going to start today.”

De Castro has served the Supreme Court since 2007, or for the last 11 years. Her stint will cap 45 years of government service that started out with clerk work at the High Court, before she rose through the ranks. She served at the Department of Justice, and then became the presiding justice of the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan. 

De Castro claimed during the JBC interviews that she started the work on the digitization of court processes, particularly the Enterprise Information Systems Plan, which is the pet project of her nemesis, ousted chief justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.

But there are other sentiments within the judiciary that her appointment is an unnecessary expense because she would be paid more as chief justice, and would get an enhanced retirement package for only two months of service.

If not for this conflict, De Castro appears to have the most nods of approval from within the judiciary compared to the two others who were shortlisted, Associate Justices Diosdado Peralta and Lucas Bersamin.

Two sources within the judiciary known for their independence vouched for De Castro, with one saying, “Her moral courage has time and again been tested through her decisions.”

A review of key en banc decisions from 2007 would show De Castro, like Peralta and Bersamin, had the tendency to vote in favor of the executive branch or politicians. 

Scenarios

When De Castro retires in October, the next 5 senior justices would again be automatically nominated. 

Those are: Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, Associate Justices Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Mariano del Castillo, and Estela Perlas Bernabe.

So it will be a question of whether Carpio, who is even more senior than De Castro, will accept the nomination. He declined his nomination for the Sereno vacancy because he said he did not want to benefit from the ouster that he dissented against. 

Carpio and Bersamin will both retire in October 2019. Peralta retires in March 2022, Del Castillo in July 2019, and Bernabe in May 2022. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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