By Christine O. Avendaño, TJ Burgonio
The “Midas touch” may be gone, but it’s back to the Golden Days—of dignified silence, that is—in the Supreme Court.
That’s the edict handed down by Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno Tuesday on her first day in office following her oath-taking on Saturday as successor of ousted Chief Justice Renato Corona.
At the start of her 18-year reign at Padre Faura, Sereno said that she preferred the return to the practice of justices speaking through their resolutions and decisions.
“If the Supreme Court is to return to its golden days, then the Chief Justice must respectfully decline all these well-meaning requests for interview,” Sereno said in her first statement to the media.
“Wisdom leads me to seek to return the Supreme Court to its days of dignified silence—when its justices were heard when read through their writings, and when the actions of the court were best seen in their collective resolutions,” she said.
“By God’s sovereignty alone, the leadership mantle has been given to me, and I accept it in all humility, knowing that without the Lord God anointing my leadership, success is not possible,” she said.
Under the Corona regime, spokesperson Midas Marquez read to reporters a synthesis of court decisions, before these were released. Often, the rulings were posted on the court’s website, long after newspapers had been put to bed and readers got accounts of the decisions as enunciated by Marquez the following day.
Not now, under the first Sereno edict.
Outside the court several dozen Sereno bashers massed, challenging her to side with the poor in such landmark issues as just compensation in the distribution to farmworkers of Hacienda Luisita, the controversial sugar plantation owned by the family of President Benigno Aquino, and the reopening of the case against his uncle, businessman Eduardo Cojuangco, on ownership of P60 billion worth of shares of stocks in San Miguel Corp. allegedly purchased with coconut levy funds.
Although decided with finality, these issues are likely to be revisited, according to the protesters comprising peasants and farmers. Their brief protest was a far cry from the “declaration of war” the fisherfolk group Pamalakaya had promised on Sunday.
Water under bridge
Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda told reporters Tuesday that
criticisms of Sereno’s appointment were now “irrelevant.”
“I think those attacks are really water under the bridge. The appointment has already been made. She has taken her oath and whether it’s coming from the judiciary or not, they have to deal with the new Chief Justice,” Lacierda said.
“The best gauge of the Chief Justice would be through the decisions … the Supreme Court decisions she has made, the principles that she stood for. Looking forward, we are going to see reforms being implemented in the judiciary,” he said. “Let’s give Chief Justice Sereno a chance to prove herself,” Lacierda said.
“Being here for a good 18 years, that would be sufficient time for any reform to take root,” he said.
“I think the critics would have a better way of channeling their frustration instead of criticizing anonymously Chief Justice Sereno,” Lacierda said, adding that the best thing they can do was help her implement badly needed reforms in the judiciary.
The 52-year-old Sereno, who will serve as Chief Justice until the retirement age of 70, formally took over the high court Tuesday, meeting and talking with court officials and employees and attending her first en banc hearing with 13 other associate justices.
Sereno also reorganized the three high court divisions effective September 3.
She will chair the first division with Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo-de Castro as working chair and Associate Justices Lucas Bersamin, Martin Villarama Jr. and Bienvenido Reyes as members.
Sereno designated Associate Justice Antonio Carpio as chairman of the second division and designated Associate Justices Arturo Brion, Mariano del Castillo, Jose Perez and Estela Perlas-Bernabe as members.
First public engagement
Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr. will head the third division with Associate Justices Diosdado Peralta, Roberto Abad and Jose Mendoza as members.
In her first public engagement as Chief Justice, Sereno will be the luncheon speaker Wednesday at the 23rd Conference of the Presidents of Law Associations in Asia (Pola) to be held at the Marriott hotel in Pasay City. The event is organized by the Integrated Bar of the Philippines.