MANILA - Terestita Leonardo-De Castro will serve only as a "transition" chief justice with her recent appointment, the president of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines said Monday.
De Castro, 69, replaces Maria Lourdes Sereno, whose appointment as top magistrate was invalidated last May for failing to fully disclose her wealth.
De Castro will step down in October 8 when she reaches the mandatory age of retirement.
"She is a transition chief justice and her appointment will, in effect, solidify the ruling on the quo warranto petition because that would mean that after the ruling there is finally a new chief justice," IBP President Abdiel Dan Fajardo told ANC's Headstart.
President Rodrigo Duterte might be thinking that by appointing De Castro, "he can have at least a little more time to think about the more permanent chief justice," he said.
"If he subsequently appoint someone who will serve for at least a year, that person can actually be right in the middle if the storm when very important decisions in the court are going to be issued," he said.
De Castro's appointment also gives light on how seniority is a key factor in choosing the chief justice, which is a "sound" practice, said Fajardo.
De Castro, the court's most senior magistrate, was voted by most of her peers to be their leader in an internal poll ahead of the shortlisting by the Judicial and Bar Council, he noted.
"I guess they like her… I guess it’s also in respect of seniority," he said.
"In those administrations where seniority was more or less recognized, there would no longer questions on the motivations of the President in appointing them because he recognizes seniority and the political considerations were somehow accorded less attention," he added.
Fajardo said for the court to have a "springboard" coming from the "massive shakeup" because of Sereno's ouster, a one-year term for the next chief justice would be good enough especially since the midterm elections will be held next year.
With only 38 days in office, Fajardo doubts De Castro will be able to effect "earthshaking" changes in the judiciary.
De Castro will be able to preside over the oral arguments over the Philippines' withdrawal from the International Criminal Court, which is scheduled this Tuesday, but it is unlikely that she will be able to vote on this matter, said Fajardo.
"I cannot imagine something that she will start now as chief justice until the end of her term something that will be earthshaking or something that is long-term. There were certain projects under Chief Justice Sereno. If she wants to see through their completion, she can," he said.
De Castro testified against Sereno in the impeachment proceedings at the House of Representatives and was also among those who voted to oust her through unprecedented "quo warranto" proceedings initiated by Solicitor General Jose Calida.
She and 6 other associate justices are also facing an impeachment complaint at the House of Representatives for alleged betrayal of public trust over Sereno's removal.
Fajardo said it cannot be helped that people may think that De Castro's appointment was a reward from Malacañang for her help in ousting Sereno.
"If you analyze the events, it was a coup d’état paving the way for the assumption of a justice who worked for the removal of then-Chief Justice Sereno…It certainly is something that strains the limits of credulity on you. How can you possibly benefit from a vacancy that you helped create?" he said.
WHO WOULD BE THE BEST REPLACEMENT?
Along with De Castro, the JBC included the names of Associate Justices Lucas Bersamin and Diosdado Peralta in the shortlist it submitted to Duterte.
They all voted for the granting of the quo warranto petition against Sereno, noted Fajardo.
Bersamin is a "long-serving" magistrate who will retire in October 2019, while Peralta is also a career member of the judiciary who will turn 70 in 2022, he said.
Fajardo said Peralta has a similar voting pattern to De Castro, and like her, an issue against him is that he will also benefit from Sereno's ouster.
Associate Justice Mariano Del Castillo, another senior magistrate, voted against the quo warranto and Fajardo was not certain if that will play to his advantage if he would vie to be the next chief justice.
The IBP nominated Associate Justice Antonio Carpio for the post, but the magistrate declined on the principle that he did not want to benefit from the quo warranto petition that he voted against.
With De Castro's appointment, Fajardo said Carpio might accept the nomination the next time.
He said appointing Carpio would be a plus for the Duterte administration.
"He will provide the leadership the Supreme Court and somehow will embody the integrity and competence that we would want also the Supreme Court to carry coming from a crisis," he said.
After Carpio reaches the retirement age of 70 in October next year, Duterte can still appoint Peralta "if that is his vision," noted Fajardo.