MANILA — The Supreme Court en banc has approved the early retirement of Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta effective March 27, the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) announced on Thursday.
According to the announcement, SC magistrates approved Peralta’s optional retirement on Jan. 5 during their first en banc session this year. This comes a year ahead of the magistrate's supposed retirement when he turns 70 on March 27, 2022.
Retirements by SC magistrates require approval by the en banc as a matter of procedure.
There was still no official reason cited for Peralta’s retirement, which was announced in December.
His retirement will allow President Rodrigo Duterte to appoint a 4th chief justice before his term ends in 2022.
This paves the way for the JBC, meanwhile, to open the search for the country’s next top magistrate. The council is accepting applications and recommendations until Feb. 15, 2021.
Automatically nominated are the 5 most senior magistrates in the high court:
- Senior Associate Justice Estela Perlas Bernabe
- Associate Justice Marvic Leonen
- Associate Justice Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa
- Associate Justice Alexander Gesmundo
- Associate Justice Ramon Hernando
The first 3 were appointed by former president Benigno Aquino III, the last 2 by Duterte.
Other magistrates could apply or be nominated.
27 years in judiciary
Peralta will not reach the mandatory age of retirement of 70 until March 27, 2022, or well within the election period where appointments by the President are prohibited.
But the High Court has ruled in the appointment of former Chief Justice Renato Corona that appointments in the Judiciary are not covered by the ban.
Former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo appointed Corona as chief justice just before her term ended to replace former Chief Justice Reynato Puno who retired on May 17, 2010, a few days after the 2010 elections.
Peralta’s early retirement will avoid that controversy.
It will also cap off 27 years in the judiciary since his appointment as regional trial court judge in Quezon City before Arroyo appointed him to the Sandiganbayan in 2002 and then to the Supreme Court in 2009.
Among the high-profile decisions he penned at the high court was the November 2016 ruling upholding the legality of the controversial burial of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani.
He also wrote the August 2017 decision allowing plea bargaining in small-time drug cases, the September 2018 decision requiring mandatory compliance with chain of custody requirements in drug cases, and the June 2019 ruling granting retroactive application of the expanded good conduct time allowance (GCTA) law.
Peralta also voted to uphold the legality of administration critic Sen. Leila De Lima’s February 2017 arrest, the declaration of martial law in Mindanao and its extensions, and the closure of Boracay island for rehabilitation.
He was in favor of Maria Lourdes Sereno’s ouster as Chief Justice in 2018 and was among justices who testified during the House of Representatives probe on the impeachment complaint against the former top magistrate.
Duterte appointed Peralta chief justice in October 2019, replacing retired Chief Justice Lucas Bersamin.
As chief justice, Peralta voted to dismiss the same-sex marriage petition, the writ of kalikasan petition filed by the Integrated Bar of the Philippines and fishermen from Zambales and Palawan over the West Philippine Sea, the petition to allow ABS-CBN to resume broadcast operations, the petitions questioning COVID-19 measures and the Bayanihan to Heal As One Act, the petition seeking the release of President Duterte’s medical records and, more recently, the writ of kalikasan petition questioning the construction of the Bulacan airport.
A known expert in criminal law and procedural rules, he initiated reforms to court procedures and processes during his stint, including the use of videoconferencing during trials in the face of the raging pandemic.
President Duterte has also yet to appoint the replacement of Associate Justice Priscilla Baltazar-Padilla who retired due to health reasons.
Aside from searching for the next top magistrate, the JBC is also looking for a new deputy ombudsman for Mindanao to replace Rodolfo Elman whose term will end on March 13.
Applications or recommendations are open until March 1, 2021.