- Published on Tuesday, 28 August 2012 00:00
- Written by NESTOR MATA
By A Web design Company
‘Many, many questions inundated the pages of newspapers soon after Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno was named by President Aquino as the new Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.’
When President Aquino named Associate Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno as the first woman Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, many questions were asked despite attempts by Malacanang mouthpieces to shield her from harsh public criticisms with accolades about her “good reputation, competence and independence.”
The first question was “Who is Sereno?” And this was quickly followed by a flood of other questions: Why did the President pick her, the youngest and with the least experience, instead of the most senior member of the high tribunal, in the shortlist of nominees submitted by the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC)? Does she fulfill the four basic qualities of a chief justice as enumerated in the Constitution, namely, “competence, integrity, probity and independence,” to a degree higher than all the other nominees? Is she endowed with personal knowledge in all fields of the law and the most capable of carrying out the kind of reforms in the Judiciary that Aquino may have in mind? And, with her at the helm as the new highest magistrate of the land, will the President, at last, get his longed-for wish to have his own “Aquino court”?
“Who is Sereno, really?” can best be answered by no less than Chief Justice Sereno herself. (Those other questions will be the subject of this column on Thursday.) She’s 52 years old, married, with two children. A public high school valedictorian, she took up AB Economics at the Ateneo de Manila University, and completed her law degree at the University of the Philippines in 1984, cum laude. She had her post-graduate degree at the UP School of Economics, and in 1993 she earned a Master of Laws degree from the University of Michigan. She started her career in private practice as a junior associate of the Sycip Salazar Feliciano and Hernandez law firm in 1986. She served as legal counsel of various government offices such as the Office of the President, Office of the Solicitor General, and the Department of Trade and Industry. And she taught law and economics in various colleges and universities here and abroad.
During Sereno’s brief stint in the tribunal as Aquino’s first appointee, she wrote a dissenting opinion on the decision last year to allow President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to leave the country. And she also a separate opinion suggesting that the family of President Aquino be compensated more for Hacienda Luisita, which is to be distributed to farmers under the agrarian reform program. Her evaluation has been condemned by the hacienda farmers for favoring the landowners, Aquino’s Cojuangco clan.
In her Statement of Assets and Liabilities for 2010, Serena declared P17.9 million in assets and P142,342.88 in liabilities, for a net worth of P17.76 million in 2010, but she reportedly didn’t include her share of the P2.65 billion paid by the government to the legal team that handled the case filed by German airport operator Fraport AG and Philippine International Air Terminal Co. before an international court in Singapore over the expropriation of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3.
Sereno scored the lowest among the nominees in the psychological-psychiatric tests conducted on behalf of the JBC, according to a Manila newspaper, having obtained a grade of “4” (Not Satisfactory) where the top grade is “1” (Excellent) and “5” (Very Unsatisfactory). And the report revealed that under the existing policy of the JBC, a nominee who garnered a grade of “4” will no longer be recommended. The tests evaluated Sereno as “dramatic and emotional, she appears energetic and all smiles and agreeable, but with religious preoccupation in almost all significant aspects of her life…”
This inevitably raised more intriguing questions. Why then did the JBC ignore and include Sereno’s name in its shortlist? Was it, perchance, because the JBC succumbed to the reported “pressures” by President Aquino, his eminence grise, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, to do it, despite that psychological evaluation of Sereno’s “strong tendency to make decisions based on current mood that could result in highly subjective and self-righteous outcome”?
And finally, does Sereno really possess the basic constitutional qualities of “competence, integrity and independence” required for a chief justice? But she’s now the 24th chief magistrate and could very well serve up to 18 years until her retirement at 70, long, long after her tribunal seniors have retired, and her “godfather” bows out of the presidency. She replaced Chief Justice Renato C. Corona, who was impeached by Aquino’s compliant allies in the House of Representatives and convicted by the Senate impeachment tribunal last May on a mere whim of a vindictive president, which should serve as a warning to Sereno.
Well, Her Honor, Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno has 18 long years to prove herself as the highest magistrate of the land!
Quote of the Day: “The basic, constitutional quality requirements for a chief justice are no other than ‘competence, integrity, probity and independence.’ No one can possess all these qualities in a degree higher than all the other nominees. Not one of the nominees, for instance, can be said to possess the highest degree of competence in all fields of law. The scope of law is so broad that necessarily there are varying fields of specialization. Precisely the Supreme Court is a collegial body in recognition of this fact—and so that it can resolve the various problems that can be brought before it…” --- Fr. Joaquin Bernas, S.J., one of the framers of the 1987 Constitution.