MANILA — President Rodrigo Duterte has chosen Supreme Court Associate Justice Alexander Gesmundo as the next Chief Justice to lead the 15-member court, Presidential Chief Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo said on Friday.
Asked by ABS-CBN News to confirm that Gesmundo is the new Chief Justice, Panelo replied: “As far as i know.”
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque earlier said he will wait until the Supreme Court receives the papers before confirming the news.
“As a matter of SOP, judicial appointments are confirmed by my office only after they have been received by the Supreme Court. Given the long holiday, the earliest a judicial Appointment can be received by the Court would be this Monday,” he told reporters.
But Gesmundo’s own fraternity, Ateneo de Manila University-based Utopia Fraternity, already posted congratulatory messages in the closed Facebook group, according to a source.
Gesmundo, 64, is the 4th most senior magistrate in the bench, after Acting Chief Justice Estela Perlas-Bernabe and associate justices Marvic Leonen and Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa.
Bernabe, 68, joined the high court in September 2011, Leonen in November 2012, and Caguioa in January 2016 — all appointees of former President Benigno Aquino III.
Leonen and Caguioa did not vie for the position.
Gesmundo was appointed by Duterte in August 2017 — his most senior appointee among the sitting justices — and is expected to serve in the high court until 2026.
The other candidate — Associate Justice Ramon Paul Hernando — is the youngest SC justice at 54 but is currently already the 5th most senior magistrate.
In his interview with the Judicial and Bar Council, the body mandated to screen applicants for judicial posts, Gesmundo said all the applicants for the chief justice post — him, Bernabe and Hernando — possess the basic qualifications to be top magistrate.
Important attributes of a chief justice, he said, are moral and ethical values and leadership that provides direction and shows political will.
“But I think what is important is that you believe you can contribute to the improvement of the judicial system. I respect the seniority issue and for me, I will be able to contribute immensely in terms of how we can possibly improve better the performance of the Judiciary in the scheme of government,” he said.
FOURTH CHIEF JUSTICE APPOINTED BY DUTERTE
Gesmundo is Duterte’s 4th chief justice appointee.
Following the ouster of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, Duterte picked chief justices Teresita Leonardo De Castro, who served for around 40 days; Lucas Bersamin, who served for less than a year; and Diosdado Peralta, who retired on March 27 after a year and 5 months as top magistrate.
All 4 chief justices voted to oust Sereno in the quo warranto petition filed against her by Solicitor General Jose Calida over her supposed failure to file statements of assets, liabilities and net worth.
ROAD TO THE SUPREME COURT
A native of San Pablo, Laguna, Gesmundo graduated from the Ateneo de Manila University Law School in 1984 and passed the Bar Exams in 1985.
In August 1985, he started working as trial attorney for the Office of the Solicitor General before rising through the ranks as solicitor and then assistant solicitor general.
He was also seconded as commissioner of the Presidential Commission on Good Government from 1998 to 2001.
He was appointed to the Sandiganbayan in 2005 until he joined the Supreme Court in 2017.
At the Supreme Court, the quo warranto petition against ousted Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno was among Gesmundo’s first key cases. Seen as a possible swing vote, he ultimately voted among the 8 justices to remove Sereno.
Gesmundo wrote the decision junking the petition challenging the Bayanihan law and other quarantine measures and voted to dismiss petitions asking the government to conduct free COVID-19 mass testing and requiring the President to disclose his medical records.
He voted to uphold the closure of Boracay Island and the two martial law in Mindanao extensions.
He concurred that the arrest of detained Senator Leila de Lima is valid and dismissed her plea for protection from Duterte’s tirades.
He joined fellow magistrates in referring the plea of prisoners to be released to trial courts and in junking Bongbong Marcos’ election protest.
Retired Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta entrusted Gesmundo with reforms of several procedural rules of the Supreme Court. Gesmundo vowed, during his Judicial and Bar Council interview, to continue the reforms Peralta started.
In vying for the top magistrate post, Gesmundo touted his “varied experience” — holding an Economics degree, working in a publishing company and for a foreign embassy as a market research officer and marketing officer for the Office of the Australian Trade Commissioner under the Australian Embassy in Manila.
Since 1992 and until he joined the SC, he also taught in various law schools.
“My varied experience would equip me in performing the tasks if given the task to be CJ,” he said.
PRIORITIES AND PRESENT CONCERNS
Among his priorities as Chief Justice are the development of the ICT infrastructure for the entire Judiciary and the review and assessment of the organizational setup of all its offices.
Gesmundo takes the helm of the Judiciary at a time when a growing number of lawyers, including judges, have been killed, while a judge was recently red-tagged, raising concerns among the safety of officers of the court.
The Free Legal Assistance Group said 61 lawyers have been killed under the Duterte administration, more than the number of the past 6 presidents combined, while the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers said 54 lawyers were killed in connection with their work.
The Supreme Court last week issued a rare public statement condemning the killings of lawyers and promised to look into incidents in the past 10 years.
“It is a sad commentary… that these killings of people involved in the legal profession, people in the Judiciary, are occurring. And I think the best thing that we can do, having supervisory power over the legal profession, is to immediately talk with the law enforcement authorities and perhaps require that they give us specifics on the extent of the investigations that have been conducted as regards these killings of members of the legal profession,” he said during his JBC interview.
“And subsequent to that, perhaps we can have a dialogue or discussion with the Integrated Bar of the Philippines to sit down and discuss how can we possibly address these issues of killings of lawyers and even of judicial officers,” he added.
Gesmundo said he is open to the suggestion to allow lawyers who feel their lives are threatened to carry firearms.
“If they feel they are adequate to handle firearms, they should be be allowed to carry firearms outside of their residence if they think that is the best way they can protect themselves from the threat,” he said.
And in the wake of killings of activists during service of search warrants issued by alleged “warrant factories,” Gesmundo stressed the need for judges to scrutinize applications for warrants.
"[The Judge] cannot solely rely on the affidavits of the complainant and the witnesses they produced because that would be in violation of the Constitution, as well as the rules on criminal procedure," he said.
Facing mounting pressure from various rights and lawyers’ groups, the Supreme Court earlier said they are crafting the guidelines requiring law enforcers to use body cameras in the service of warrants.
But activists said this is not enough.
Various groups have submitted their recommendations to the high court to amend the existing rules on issuance and enforcement of warrants.
Gesmundo will also have to deal with a raging pandemic. Courts in the NCR Plus bubble are currently on lockdown until April 4, Easter Sunday.
FROM THE ARCHIVES