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The new chief justice – more than seniority


IN an effort to explain President Duterte’s choice of Justice Teresita Leonardo de Castro as the new chief justice of the country, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said she was the most senior among those nomi­nated by the Judicial and Bar Council. She is indeed the most senior among the nominees; she will reach the mandated retirement age of 70 on Oct. 8, giving her only 41 days to serve as chief justice.

Seniority is an important criteria in government appointments. There are others. Qualifications for the position are another. In the Supreme Court, these include integrity as indicated by correct filing of a Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Networth – the key issue on which then Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno was ousted in quo warranto proceedings.

The demands of the situation are also considered in appointments. The appointee should be in the right place at the right time to do well in the position. Time was against so many military officers appointed to be chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, who were not able to carry out changes and reforms they espoused because they had only months to serve before compulsory retirement at age 56.

And, of course, the assessment of the appointing power is important, con­sidering the needs of his office and his own personal considerations. This is probably the key in many government appointments; to this day, critics of Sereno’s appointment link it to her role in the Hacienda Luisita case.

But more important than her seniority is Chief Justice De Castro’s “ster­ling record of service” – in the words of Rep. Rudy Fariñas. Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III said she can immediately lay down her ideas on “how to reform, how to expedite cases, how to improve the decisions, and how to insulate justices from corrupt practices.” Even with only 41 days as chief justice, she can instigate judicial reforms in the high court, Sen. Francis Escudero said.

We join in wishing Chief Justice De Castro well in her new position at the Supreme Court. On her first day last Tuesday, she vowed to preserve judicial independence, maintain collegiality with fellow justices, and expedite the resolution of cases from the trial courts to the Supreme Court. These, more than her seniority, should be the hallmarks of her stint as chief justice of the country.