MANILA, Philippines (UPDATE 5) - President Aquino on Friday appointed Associate Justice Maria Lourdes Punzalan Aranal-Sereno as the 24th Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
"In the midst of this period of deep mourning for the loss of Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo, the President is cognizant of his constitutional duty to appoint the next Chief Justice of the Philippines. He has therefore decided to appoint Associate Justice Maria Lourdes Punzalan Aranal-Sereno as the 24th Chief Justice of the Supreme Court," a statement from Malacañan read.
It added: "The President is confident that Chief Justice Sereno will lead the judiciary in undertaking much-needed reforms. We believe the Judicial Branch of government has a historic opportunity to restore our people's confidence in the judicial system."
Speaking to ANC, Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda acknowledged that President Aquino is breaking tradition by appointing the youngest of the current Supreme Court magistrates to lead the judiciary.
|President Benigno Simeon Aquino III and newly appointed Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Punzalan Aranal-Sereno. File Photo
Asked why the President appointed a Chief Justice who will stay for 18 years before retiring, Lacierda said the appointment of a young Chief Justice was anticipated by the Constitution.
"You have a requirement wherein a person may become Justice of the Supreme Court at the age of 40 and retire at the age of 70. Therefore, anybody within that range is capable of becoming appointed Chief Justice," he said.
"Now, we are breaking tradition in a sense that the President did not appoint someone who is near retirement and obviously Chief Justice Sereno is I think the youngest Chief Justice. If I am not mistaken, she is 52 years old. She will have a full 18 years to implement reforms in the judiciary and we are hoping that the reforms will take root as the years go by," he added.
The spokesman said the President talked to the different nominees for the Chief Justice post before coming to the conclusion that Sereno "is the best person to institute reforms in the judiciary."
He also said Aquino's decision to announce Sereno's appointment while the nation is in mourning for the late DILG chief Jesse Robredo is only a recognition of the need to appoint a new Chief Justice within the constitutional period of apointment.
First female Chief Justice
Born July 2, 1960, Sereno is 52 years old - making her the youngest to be appointed to the Chief Justice post.
She is also the first female Chief Justice in the Philippines.
A Palace source said Aquino really wanted a lady Chief Justice. Thus, if Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) chair Teresita Herbosa had been included in the shortlist, it would have been a toss-up among the three women.
Sereno can stay at her post until she reaches the retirement age of 70, making her 18-year term as Chief Justice the second longest in the country's history.
The longest on record is the country's first Chief Justice, Cayetano Arellano, who stayed as chief magistrate from June 1, 1901 to April 1, 1920.
Sereno is the first appointee of President Aquino to the SC in 2010, filling in the lone vacancy in the SC created by the appointment of Associate Justice Renato Corona as Chief Justice.
Ironically, she will also be filling in Corona's spot after the former chief justice was impeached and removed from office last May.
Integrated Bar of the Philippines president Roan Libarios congratulated President Aquino for appointing Sereno, saying the magistrate placed 2nd in the IBP mock polls for the CJ post.
Asked why Aquino appointed Sereno, Libarios said: "Komportable si President Aquino sa kanya dahil siya yung unang appointee niya at pangalawa dahil may kakayahan si Justice Sereno na mag-undertake ng reforms at advocacy."
Libarios described Sereno as very religious and an advocate for greater transparency in the judiciary. "May takot sa Diyos and she can withstand pressure," he said.
The IBP prexy said that in appointing Sereno, the President seemed to have rejected proposals to appoint an "interim" Chief Justice who could stay for a few years before being replaced anew upon retirement. Among those who could have been appointed interim Chief Justice are Associate Justice Roberto Abad (2 years) and former Congressman Ronaldo Zamora (3 years).
A pioneer of law and economics in the country, Sereno was executive director of the Asian Institute of Management Policy Center and the president of Accesslaw, Inc.
She was a faculty member of the Philippine Judicial Academy since 2000, teaching Civil Law, Negotiable Instruments Law, and International Trade Law.
She was a TOWNS (Ten Outstanding Women in the Nation’s Service) Awardee for Law in 1998. She was co-counsel with Justice Florentino P. Feliciano, of the Fraport Case before the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes in Washington DC and the PIATCO case before the International Chamber of Commerce-International Court of Arbitration, Singapore. Both cases were resolved in favor of the Republic of the Philippines.
Sereno graduated from the Ateneo de Manila University with a degree in AB Economics in 1980 and obtained her Bachelor of Laws cum laude from the UP College of Law in 1984. She has a Masters of Law from the University of Michigan Law School. -- with reports from Ina Reformina, ABS-CBN News; Ira Pedrasa, ABS-CBNnews.com