Supreme Court’s Delos Santos 'considering' early retirement due to health reasons

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 26 2021 03:37 PM

MANILA — Another Supreme Court justice is “considering” retiring early, ahead of the mandatory retirement age of 70.

Associate Justice Edgardo delos Santos confirmed to SC spokesperson Brian Keith Hosaka that he is considering that possibility due to health reasons.

“According to Justice Delos Santos, due to health reasons he is considering the possibility of retiring ahead of his 70th birthday on 12 June 2022,” Hosaka told reporters Friday.

LETTER TO STAFF

Hosaka was asked to confirm a media report about Delos Santos’ retirement based on a letter which circulated among group chats on Thursday afternoon.

The letter dated March 19, was addressed to his staff, informing them about his decision to retire early.

“I also write to you today to properly express my deep sadness for cutting short our association. In the brief time that we have together, I have found comfort in coming to our office with the knowledge that I am among trusted people. I saw and felt your enthusiasm in your work which in turn encouraged me to do my best as your boss and mentor,” he said in the letter.

“I have agonized over this decision to hang my judicial robe early. I spent sleepless nights trying to think of a better — no, make that — the best way to announce my decision to you, my staff, in light of the trying times we are currently experiencing. In the end, I succumbed to the frailty of human emotions, that as I mustered to overcome my sadness during my announcement this afternoon, I tactlessly covered it up by trying to be funny,” he added without providing more details about the incident with his staff.

But he concluded with a farewell note.

“It has been my honor to serve the Supreme Court with you at my side. Without the hardworking staff of AOJ EDSA, there would be no Justice Edsa. Thank you for your dedication, commitment, patience and most especially your friendship. I can truly say that I am blessed,” he said.

STILL SC JUSTICE

Hosaka referred to the letter in his statement Friday.

“That is the reason why he advised his staff as early as 19 March 2021, through a letter of even date, to start looking for other employment knowing the difficulty of finding a job during this pandemic,” he said.

“Justice Delos Santos further added that he remains an incumbent member of the Supreme Court until after a specific date of retirement, as may be indicated in a formal letter from him to the En Banc, is accepted and acted upon by the Court,” he explained.

HUMBLE BEGINNINGS

Delos Santos was appointed to the Supreme Court by President Duterte in December 2019, along with Associate Justice Mario Lopez.

Prior to his appointment, Delos Santos was head of the Visayas station of the Court of Appeals in Cebu and has served the judiciary for 40 years.

The son of a fisherman, delos Santos graduated from the University of San Carlos in Cebu, and rose from the ranks working as legal researcher, technical assistant, court attorney, municipal trial court judge in Dumaguete City before being appointed regional trial court judge in Bacolod City.

He was known at the “habal-habal” judge who would go to work and ferry his family via motorcycle. 

And as a CA associate justice, he wrote promissory notes to Silliman University to pay off his children’s education.

While at the CA, delos Santos penned the decision prohibiting the Cebu City government from dumping garbage at the Inayawan Landfill, which was affirmed by the Supreme Court. He also affirmed murder and rape convictions of fratmen.

SUPREME COURT STINT

At the Supreme Court, Delos Santos was initially designated as member-in-charge of an urgent petition of several detainees to be released due to the threat of the coronavirus pandemic in crowded jails.

But it took the Supreme Court 4 months to act on it, only to justify why it could not act on the plea and referred the matter instead to the trial courts, in a 9-page decision with no justice named as ponente or writer. 

Eight magistrates filed separate and concurring opinions, collectively running to up to 300 pages.

That decision was partly blamed by activists and rights groups for the death of detainee Reina Mae Nasino’s Baby River, who died shortly after being separated from her after birth.

MORE DUTERTE APPOINTEES

Should Delos Santos decide to retire, he would be the third justice of the Supreme Court to retire early during the pandemic.

The high court, in November last year, accepted the early retirement of Justice Priscilla Baltazar-Padilla due to “physical disability.” She was appointed only in July 2020 at age 62.

Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta, meanwhile, has yet to disclose his reasons for retiring early, effective Saturday March 27 at the age of 69. Seventy is the mandatory retirement age for justices. 

Peralta’s retirement and Delos Santos’ plan to retire means President Duterte could still make 5 more appointments in the coming months:

• the new Chief Justice to replace Peralta

• the associate justice to take the place of whoever will be appointed new CJ

• the associate justice to replace Delos Santos

• the associate justice to replace Justice Rosmari Carandang when she retires in January 2022

• the associate justice to replace Justice Estela Perlas-Bernabe when she retires in May 2022 (unless if she is appointed CJ, then the appointment will be for CJ post)

This would also mean 6 of President Duterte’s appointees have either retired or retired early — Ombudsman Samuel Martires, Noel Tijam (now with the Judicial and Bar Council), Andres Reyes, Jr., Jose Reyes, Jr., Priscilla Baltazar-Padilla, aside from Delos Santos. Carandang’s retirement in January would make her the 8th.

This excludes the 3 chief justices the President has appointed so far — Teresita Leonardo de Castro who served for only more than 40 days, Lucas Bersamin who served for a little less than a year, and Peralta who served for 1 year and 5 months.

By the time President Rodrigo Duterte steps down from office, only Leonen and Caguioa will stay on as appointees of former President Benigno Aquino III. The remaining 13 will have been Duterte appointees.

Asked about the impact of the fast-changing composition of the high court, Associate Justice Marvic Leonen previously said there is nothing wrong with a revolving door policy.

“I think that even if a person serves for only one year in the courts of justice, it changes the complexion of our deliberations. Every new justice brings in their own ideas, their own standpoint. And for so long as the court strives to be diversified in terms of its thinking, strives to be very diversified in terms of their sources from their careers…Then we can have deliberations we try to engage,” he said.

But early retirements by SC justices also mean their staff, who served on a co-terminus basis, will also have to find new work soon.

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