MANILA (3rd UPDATE)—Several government officials reacted to the appointment of Teresita Leonardo-De Castro as the new chief justice, Saturday, hours after Malacañang confirmed that the 69-year old magistrate is the new head of the high court.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra called the appointment a "fitting finale" to De Castro's 45-year career in the judiciary.
De Castro is expected to hold the top magistrate post for only 2 months. She will reach the mandatory retirement age of 70 years old in October.
"The new appointment of Justice De Castro as Chief Justice is a fitting finale to [her] illustrious career in both the Department of Justice and the Judiciary," Guevarra said.
Former Justice and now Ombudsman Samuel Martires described the new chief justice as a "God-fearing person" and a "workaholic."
"New Chief Justice Teresita Leonardo-De Castro is a stickler to the rules. A good friend; strict but compassionate and will not mince a word to tell the truth," Martires said.
"I am so happy that the First Lady Chief Justice of the Philippines was my former Presiding Justice at the Sandiganbayan. She truly deserves it," he said.
Martires, along with De Castro and 5 other justices, voted in favor of a quo warranto petition that invalidated the appointment of Maria Lourdes Sereno as chief justice in May 2018.
Former Solicitor General Florin Hilbay and opposition lawmaker Gary Alejano, meanwhile, said De Castro's appointment may be considered as President Rodrigo Duterte's way of paying his debt of gratitude to the second most senior magistrate of the high court.
"Baka isipin po ng mga mamamayan na parang bayad-utang na loob dahil isa si Punong Mahistrado Tessie De Castro sa nanguna sa pagpapatanggal kay dating Chief Justice Meilou Sereno," Hilbay said.
(People might think that the appointment of De Castro as chief justice is a way of paying a debt of gratitude for the ouster of Maria Lourdes Sereno.)
Alejano said in a statement: "Ang pagtatalaga ni Duterte kay Teresita De Castro bilang Punong Mahistrado ay maliwanag na nagpapakita ng bayad-utang, kawalan ng delicadeza at kagarapalan sa gobyernong ito."
(Duterte's appointment of Teresita De Castro as chief justice is a clear way of showing that he is paying a debt of gratitude, a lack of delicadeza and greed in this government.)
Sen. Richard Gordon said De Castro will "do very well with her experience as a legal luminary for 45 years. Highly bright, competent and a woman of the law."
Sen. Gringo Honasan said De Castro's appointment "introduces elements of stability, continuity and predictability not only to the judiciary but to our democracy."
‘Endo’ chief justice?
Sen. Francis "Kiko" Pangilinan, meanwhile, questioned De Castro's appointment in light of her impending retirement on October 8.
"Appointment of endo CJ does not help in the strengthening of the rule of law. Why appoint someone who will only sit as Chief Justice for less than two months? What public purpose does it serve? What public value does it create? The appointment leaves much to be desired," he said.
Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman echoed Hilbay and Alejano's statements, asserting that the President only rewarded De Castro for her role in Sereno's ouster.
"Fealty to the high standards of ethics and morality required of judicial officers should have impelled De Castro to forfeit her ambition," he said in a statement.
"With the very short period of her incumbency, it is humanly impossible for her to accomplish wonders or anything of substance in the Supreme Court."
Abdiel Fajardo, president of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP), said the organization stands by its nomination of Associate Justice Antonio Carpio as chief magistrate.
The IBP, the country's only compulsory organization of lawyers, has said it favored the return to the long-standing tradition of seniority in choosing the next chief magistrate, which was observed prior to the appointment of Sereno in August 2012.
"Justice de Castro is the next most senior in the Court. While on the one hand she faces ethical questions considering that she is succeeding a CJ she helped remove, on the other hand we are hoping that this starts a trend that will weigh heavily in favor of seniority as a tradition," Fajardo said.