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President Aquino announced last Friday August 24 the appointment of 52-year old Associate Justice Maria Lourdes Punzalan Aranal Sereno as the 24th Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
The announcement was historic as Sereno is the first ever female Chief Justice. Sereno is also President Aquino’s first appointee to the Supreme Court.
“The President is confident that Chief Justice Sereno will lead the judiciary in undertaking much-needed reforms,” presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said.
On hearing her appointment, the new Chief Justice who was “overwhelmed” said, “I would like to thank the President for the trust he has reposed in me, but most of all I give glory to God from whom all this goodness has happened.”
Asked on her independence she replied, “Everyone can be assured that will be something that they will see.”
She added: “I would like to assure our countrymen I will keep my oath of office faithfully to the end of my term. We will deliver to the people our priorities and schedules in due time.”
Sereno was appointed in August 2010, to the Supreme as Associate Justice filling the vacancy left by Corona when he became the Chief Justice.
Following are excerpts from her JBC interview for Chief Justice.
Her reply to someone not from the SC to fill in the position of Chief Justice: “Appointing someone who is unfamiliar with the court is problematic since the inner-workings of the court are specialized.”
“It’s like appointing a civilian to lead a war”, Sereno said adding that reforms in the SC can come from within.
Becoming the youngest justice of the SC, Sereno was asked about the possibility of burning out once she gets appointed as chief justice, since she will have to spend 18 years in court before retiring: “I was born like this, passionate in life”. She added that her energy comes from God.
Asked about her value systems, Sereno presented a guideline which she follows. This includes avoiding conflicts of interest, making people see that she is not corrupt, working hard and building a reputation that she tells the truth.
“People need to believe in the judges”, she said. In addition, she believes she is no longer keeping her oath when she is no longer hurt by injustice.
Lastly, she said God is her source of inspiration for her job, adding: “The moment I lose dependence on the source of my strength I become weak”.
Asked on what she will do in a case where her conscience clashes with the law, she said the situation is unlikely.
“When we try to render justice, we are also trying to replicate, mimic, copy the work of God”, she said.
As an Associate Justice, Sereno voted with the farmers and against the President in the Hacienda Luisita issue.
In April 2012, Sereno voted against having the Department of Agrarian Reform pay for Cojuangco-owned Hacienda Luisita based on 1989 rates.
Sereno penned the dissenting opinion in the SC’s order allowing Arroyo to leave the country for medical reason abroad last year pending the poll fraud charges against the former President cited as an information in the impeachment of Corona.
Prior to joining the SC, she was engaged in major international litigation as co-counsel to the Republic with Justice Florentino Feliciano on the Fraport case before the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes and in the Philippine Air Terminals company Inc. (PLATCO) before the International Chamber of Commerce-International Court of Arbitration in Singapore. In both cases the Philippines won.
Born on 2 July 1960 of parents with humble means, her father is a native of Siasi, Sulu and her mother a public school teacher.
Sereno finished her elementary schooling at Kamuning Elementary School and graduated from Quezon City High School.
With scholarships she studied Economics at Ateneo de Manila and graduated in 1984 as valedictorian from the University of the Philippines College of Law.
She joined the largest law firm in the Philippines after her UP law studies.
In 1992, Sereno was awarded a De Witte Fellowship and a Ford-Rockefeller Scholarship to pursue her Master of Laws at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where she developed her proficiency in law and economics and international trade law.
At 38, Sereno worked as legal counselor of the World Trade Organizations, Appellate Body Secretariat on Geneva. A year later at 39, she was chosen as the only female member of the Preparatory Commission on the Constitutional Reform where she served as chair of the steering committee.
For nearly 20 years was Professor at the UP College of Law, was a Deputy Commissioner of Human Rights and also taught at Philippine Judicial Academy and several international academies.
Sereno co-founded Accesslaw, a corporation that provided first annotated electronic research in Philippine law. Access to justice is one of the centerpiece advocacies of Justice Sereno.
A review of the interface between domestic laws and indigenous customary laws is one of her earlier works.
United Nations Development Program (UNDP) commissioned Sereno to write a paper on judicial reform which was welcomed by the SC with activities as dialogue between the members of the SC and representatives of basic sectors.
Sereno assisted the SC pilot projects such as mediation and judicial case management systems and wrote a widely-quoted survey based on justice and the costs of doing business together with professors from the UP School of Economics.
Reactions to Sereno’s appointment are mixed.
Roan Libarios lawyer, president of the IBP welcomed the appointment as “an asset to the judiciary”.
“She is a new face yet an insider with a reputation for competence and independence. She will prove to be an effective leader of the Judiciary”, House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr.
Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago: “I understand that she has not been appointed to any judicial post. She will therefore have to take into consideration the viewpoint of trial judges as distinguished from her own academic background. She is fully acquainted with the law as it ought to be. She has to raise the level of her awareness of the law as it is. In other words, she will have to come down from her ivory tower and prepare herself to confront the problem of Third World country”.
Kabataan party-list Representative Raymond Palatino: “She will have ample time to enforce genuine reform in the country’s justice system. We need an SC that will be more transparent, pro-people and free from political maneuverings”.
Bagong Alyansang Makabayan secretary general Renato Reyes, “continued vigilance” on how Sereno will lead the SC. “One wonders if the whole CJ impeachment was designed to lead to this day— and this is the result”.
Some say Sereno’s life story reeks of integrity, academic and judicial excellence, competence, inspiring, humble and outstanding personal background.
The reforms most needed which most opined are: judicial reforms perhaps introduction of the jury, and speedy trials, weeding out corruption in courts and bring back the court credibility.
The new Chief Justice is married to Mario Jose E. Sereno and has two children, Maria Sophia and Jose Lorenzo.
CONGRATULATIONS to the first female Chief Justice Maria Lourdes P. A. Sereno!