Sereno seen as Aquino’s likely pick
All too suddenly and just days before the nomination process for the post of chief justice comes to a close at the Judicial Bar and Council (JBC), the body that screens the candidates for the judicial position and submits a list of three to five nominees to the president for his choice to the high post, President Aquino’s favorite and first appointee, who is perceived to be the Palace defender in the Supreme Court, junior Associate Justice Lourdes Sereno’s nomination has been made, which makes her one of the nominees for probable inclusion in the list to be submitted to Aquino.
Sereno is among the three new hopefuls joining the names of the JBC list for the post of chief justice replacing Renato Corona who was removed from office last month.
Sereno was embroiled in an issue where the summary of her statement of assets and liabilities and networth (SALn) failed to match the millions in fees she had received as the government lawyer-researcher during the arbitration process involving the cases of Philippine International Airport Terminals Co. (Piatco) and Fraport.
Records in the the House of Representatives showed that she had received millions in fees as the government’s counsel-resarcher while her SALn showed she only had assets amounting to P14 million.
It was apparent that she did not include in her SALn the fees she had earned from the government, Piatco and Fraport.
The Palace and Aquino, however, never had this non-inclusion investigated nor criticized.
Sereno is joined by Associate Justices Jose Perez and Roberto Abad. Both Abad and Sereno were engaged in private practice and the academe before joining the judiciary as SC justices.
Abad was nominated by lawyer Nilo Divina while Associate Justice Perez was nominated by the Asia Pacific Bar Association Inc..
Sereno, Aquino’s first appointee, was nominated by Felma Roel Singco, Reagan de Guzman, and lawyer Fidel Thaddeus Borja.
Perez was an assistant court administrator of the high tribunal.
Sereno will be joining the five most senior justices of the high court who are automatically nominated for the post, namely: Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio, Associate Justices Presbitero Velasco Jr., Teresita Leonardo de Castro, Arturo Brion and Diosdado Peralta.
Carpio is a cousin of Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales who testified against Corona in the latter’s impeachment in the Senate.
Abad, who took up law studies in Ateneo is a long time private practitioner and a member of the academe particularly the University of Santo Tomas before joining the SC.
He was nominated by lawyer Nilo Divina of UST.
Also in the running are former UP College of Law Dean Marvic Leonen, Comelec Commissioner Rene Sarmiento and former Energy Secretary Raphael Lotilla.
Last week, newsman and former Makati representative Teodoro “Teddy Boy” Locsin Jr. and former solicitor general Francisco Chavez were nominated to the vacancy for the position of chief justice.
“Mr. Locsin is an extraordinary lawyer and an extraordinary man. His combination of intellect, integrity, probity, independence, and vast experience will make him an outstanding Supreme Court Chief Justice,” lawyer Brigido Dulay and Jonathan de la Cruz said.
Locsin served was a spokesman and speechwriter of the late President Corazon Aquino.
“I am humbled and elated.” Chavez for his part told reporters in a chance interview with reporters at the Manila Prosecutors’ Office.
Chavez was nominated by Manuel Baviera, organizer and founding member of the Whistle Blowers’ Association of the Philippines .
Chavez graduated cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in law from the University of the Philippines.
Also frontrunners are Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, Revenue chief Kim Henares, former UP Law dean Raul Pangalangan, former Ateneo dean Cesar Villanueva, Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza and lawyer Katrina Legarda.
Eight associate justice have now been nominated by the for the post vacated by Corona.
The five most senior justices — Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr., Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo de Castro, Associate Justice Arturo Brion, and Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta — are automatically nominated.
Meanwhile, Aquino has been all praises for Carpio and his Supreme Court, although Malacañang appears to have eroded its credibility amid conflicting positions taking the President on the center stage. Praising the Supreme Court for adopting policies compelling all justices to disclose everything while maintaining his position that he does not have to sign an unconditional waiver of bank accounts confidentiality.
Portraying the role of an advocate on transparency and accountability, the administration lauded the Supreme Court for what was described in a statement as the unprecedented disclosure of budget accountability report (BAR) for the first quarter of 2012 of the high tribunal and its magistrates.
Likewise earning the Aquino administration’s recognition is the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET) which had its budget accountability report for the same period posted in the official website of the judiciary.
Both reports cover the first quarter of 2012 and are available for the first time on the Supreme Court’s official Web site (http://sc.judiciary.gov.ph). Also published are the quarterly reports, disbursements, and collections for funds allotted to the JBC and the Special Allowance for Judges (SAJ). The 2010 Annual Commission on Audit (CoA) Report on the Supreme Court is also available in the website.
“We welcome this move by the current leadership in the Supreme Court to publicly disclose their first-quarter budget accountability reports for this year, as well as those of the Presidential Electoral Tribunal. The unprecedented publication of BARs on their official website is definitely a milestone that will contribute greatly to in the Aquino administration’s campaign for improved transparency and budget accountability in government, especially in the judiciary, said Budget Secretary Butch Abad
Claiming credit on the significant reforms now being instituted at the SC, Abad also sees the release of BARs on its website as a contributing factor in the improvement of the current system of checks and balances that govern the judiciary, especially in light of the Administration’s recent successes in reforming and cleaning up the country’s justice system.
Earlier, the Supreme Court en banc also approved the release of the SALns of all judges and justices, subject to the guidelines formulated by the Supreme Court.
Abad highlighted the positive impact of increased judiciary accountability on the national economy, particularly with respect to foreign investments.
“With foreign investors expressing increased interest in the Philippines, there’s an even greater need to re-establish public trust in the Philippine judiciary. A fairer and more predictable justice system will encourage higher investor confidence, which will in turn encourage businesses to set up shop here and create more jobs for the local workforce,” Abad said.
At the same time, with the JBC already in the homestretch of the judicious process of screening nominees vying to become the new Chief Justice, acting Chief Justice Carpio will remain at the helm of the high court until Aquino finally reveals his choice for the new chief magistrate, when he delivers his annual State of the Nation Address (Sona) by the third week of next month.
Deputy presidential spokesman Abigail Valte reiterated the President’s preference is not to be in a rush to appoint a new Chief Justice.
Valte, however, hinted that the President’s Sona is already in the thick of preparation even as she noted that various government offices have already started coordinating with the Presidential Management Staff on projects and developments which the PMS may find fit for inclusion in Aquino’s Sona.
She declined to give any hint as to what would be the President’s focus this year when he delivers his Sona even as she claims to be clueless on it. She added that focus of this year’s Sona has yet to be determined.
It is expected that Aquino will again focus on his “achievement” of having the Chief Justice impeached, which he equates with his success in reforming the judiciary and a stronher democracy.
Valte however gave an assurance that the high tribunal would have a new chief justice even before Aquino gets to end his piece.
To date, the JBC has already received 27 nominations for the top SC post. Of the 27 nominees, eight are SC Justices while four are members of the Cabinet.
Also nominated are Elections Commissioner Rene Sarmiento, University of the East College of Law Dean Amado Valdez, Integrated Bar of the Philippines President Roan Libarios, Rodolfo Robles, Pedro Aquino and former energy secretary Raphael Lotilla.
The JBC is constitutionally tasked to screen applicants to the Judicial and Ombudsman posts. It will submit a shortlist of at least three nominees to the President, who has 90 days to choose the chief magistrate. With Fernan J. Angeles