The 24th Chief Justice of the Republic

Introduction by Chief Justice ARTEMIO V. PANGANIBAN of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes P. A. Sereno who was the Guest of Honor and Speaker during the Launching of the ten Chief Justice Panganiban Professorial Chairs on Liberty and Prosperity on September 18, 2012 at the Metrobank Auditorium, Metrobank Plaza, Sen. Gil Puyat Avenue, Makati City.

Chief Justice Meilou Sereno, the first woman Chief Justice of the Republic; you know, my eight year-old grand daughter Nicole Manalac snuggled to me when your appointment was announced. Nicole gave me some delicious blue berry muffins she baked and said, “Lolo, I am sorry I will no longer take up law and will just be a baker because I can no longer be the first lady chief justice of our country.” I smiled and replied “That’s alright, hija, you can be the first baker in the world to become chief justice.”

Greetings to special guests

Former President Fidel Valdez Ramos. Ladies and gentlemen, I owe my appointment to the Supreme Court to President Ramos. After his election in 1992, he spoke with me, privately one-on-one, for one hour and offered me to be his Secretary of Justice. Surprised, I humbly thanked him but respectfully declined. I said I did not deserve to join his Cabinet because I did not campaign for him. He replied, “I know that. I know also that you did not even vote for me. You voted for your mentor, Jovy Salonga. But I want to be President not only of those who voted for me but also of those who did not, but who are competent and honest.” Thereafter, he offered me a seat in the Supreme Court, which I of course accepted because it was a non-partisan position. And to his eternal credit, President Ramos never spoke with me about any matter in the Supreme Court, even when I voted against some of his projects. Such is the gentleman that he is. Mabuhay po kayo. At saka, Mr. President, yong pong legal philosophy ko na liberty and prosperity is kindred to your own vision of peace and development, except that liberty and prosperity is focused on the legal profession and the judiciary.

Members of the Cabinet and of Congress. I see Senator Frank Drilon. President Noynoy Aquino would have been comfortable to see him aspire for Chief Justice but Senator Drilon respectfully declined saying he felt awkward gunning for post, after actively participating in the impeachment trial of the previous occupant. Such delicadeza of the rarest kind deserves our applause. I also see Senator Ed Angara, who – while he was still President of the UP in 1982 – was offered to be Chief Justice by President Ferdinand Marcos but also respectfully declined because he wanted to honor the tradition of having only insiders as Chiefs. He was barely 50 at the time and would have been the youngest CJ ever.

Members of the judiciary, both incumbent and retired, I see some of my former colleagues in the Supreme Court; in particular Justices Presbitero J. Velasco Jr., Mariano Del Castillo, and Estela Perlas Bernabe; Court of Appeals led by Presiding Justice Andres Reyes Jr, Sandiganbayan and Court of Tax Appeals led by Presiding Justice Ernesto Acosta. Welcome po sa inyong lahat!

SEC Chair Teresita Herbosa, the sentinel of good corporate governance and enforcer of ethical standards in business.

Your Excellencies of the Diplomatic and Consular Corps and of the International Aid Agencies. I see in the audience Mr. Motoo Konishi of the World Bank.

The esteemed titans of business and industry, led by Dr. George Ty, the group chair of Metrobank, the co-sponsor of the 10 Professorial Chairs we are inaugurating. Manny Pangilinan, the Chair of the Metro Pacific Investments Corporation, which supports our Foundation’s initiatives, is abroad but Metro Pacific President Joey Lim is here. I also Don Jaime and Fernando Zobel de Ayala, Jollibee’s Tony and Grace Tan Caktiong, JG Summit patriarch John Gokongwei, Fedex chief Bert Lina, Inquirer’s Alex and Marixi Prieto; other VIPs of the business world (including Andrew Tan of Megaworld).

Our esteemed chair holders, who will be introduced appropriately later, and the heads of the educational institutions they represent, including UP President Alfredo Pascual and FEU Chair Lourdes Montinola.

And of course, I should never forget, the chief of this justice, my wife Leni. Ladies and Gentlemen.

First acquaintance

I have heard of our guest of honor and speaker over a decade ago when I was still sitting in the Supreme Court. She was known as a topnotch scholar, a lively professor and a devoted practitioner of the noblest profession on earth. But I formally met her only after I had already finished my term in the Supreme Court. In one of his visits at my home, retired Justice Florentino P. Feliciano brought her along and introduced her to me.

They were consulting with me and wanted me to test their strategies in connection with the pending arbitration cases in Washington and Singapore regarding the construction of Terminal III of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in which they were co-counsels for the Philippine government. Professor Sereno, as she was addressed then, struck me as a passionate and knowledgeable advocate who had complete mastery of the facts and the intricate laws involved in the controversy. Small wonder, they won those arbitration cases, even if today, the one in Washington is still breathing some post victory controversy.

Thereafter, on another visit at home also for consultation, she brought along Sen. Franklin Drilon, her client who petitioned the Supreme Court to invalidate the Memorandum of Agreement or MOA entered into by the government with the Moro National Liberation Front to create the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity. She wanted me to drill her on the fine points of law preparatory to her oral argument in the Supreme Court. No wonder too, the high court invalidated this MOA, and thereby prevented the possible dismemberment of the Republic.

That victory etched her place among the greats who have argued and won high profile public interest cases in the Supreme Court. As a fitting tribute to her triumph, I thought she was ready for a seat in the Supreme Court. But I did not realize that that thought would come to reality so soon.

Introduction to P-Noy

During the 60th anniversary of the GMA7 Network at the Makati Shangri-la on July 30, 2010, she asked me to help her meet President Aquino, who was the guest of honor. Knowing she was on the short list of the Judicial and Bar Council for a vacant seat in the Supreme Court, I introduced her to P-Noy at the celebration sidelines as a super lawyer-economist who could propel the President’s program to the judiciary.

She immediately added, “Mr. President, I met you a few years back. When you were still a senator, I briefed you on the pending ratification of the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement.” The President lighted up and replied, “Ah, yes, I remember now, and I followed your advice.” After P-Noy winked at me, I felt she instantly won the President’s nod. True enough, a few days later, the Palace announced her appointment as P-Noy’s first appointee to the Supreme Court.

Upon taking her oath as the youngest associate justice under the 1987 Constitution, she immediately plunged into the backbreaking work in the Supreme Court and wrote memorable decisions and stirring opinions, both concurring and dissenting, on the most important cases in the Court.

Two years after, when a vacancy for the post of chief justice opened up, she was nominated along with several others. During the interview conducted by the Judicial and Bar Council, she frankly admitted that she was just an option, not a leading candidate, for the position. And when the President interviewed her on August 23, 2012 after she was short-listed by the JBC, she also frankly admitted admiration for her most senior colleague and would have gladly stepped aside in his favor, had the President named him.

But Destiny had grand designs for her beyond her own humble self-deprecations. A day after interviewing her, the President, announced her appointment as the first woman chief justice of the Republic.

Looking back, I think President Aquino chose her because she personifies his twin vision of “kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap.” If I may add, I believe that she also exemplifies our Foundation’s ideal of a magistrate who safeguards the liberty of our people and nurtures their prosperity under the rule of law. She is steeped in both law and economics; one who, by education, training, aptitude and experience understands the intertwining relationship between good governance and good economics; between justice and jobs; between freedom and food; and between peace and development.

Her basic law course (graduating as valedictorian and cum laude) from the University of the Philippines College of Law and her economics degree from the Ateneo de Manila, plus her master’s in law from the University of Michigan, prepared her well for our country’s need not only for outstanding lawyers and professors but also for jurists who appreciate the need to balance law with economics.

Generational change

Our esteemed guest of honor ushers a generational change in the judiciary. At 50, she is the youngest to be named associate justice under the 1987 Constitution. She will be in the high court for a total of 20 years. For 18 of those 20 years, she will stay as the first woman chief justice, second in length of service only to Cayetano Arellano, who served as our top jurist for 19 years on June 11, 1901 to April 1, 1920. But she outstrips him in total high court service by about a year because Arellano did not serve as an associate justice.

Ranking 12th in the Supreme Court seniority totem pole, she is the most junior associate justice to become chief. Prior to her, the most junior to reach the top was Ramon Avancena who, before his elevation, ranked fourth. She would be chief justice during the term of four presidents, President Aquino and the winners of the 2016, 2022 and 2028 elections.

In this sense, she is both an insider and an outsider; insider for two years as an associate justice, enough to know the internal dynamics, habits and processes of the Supreme Court, and outsider enough to still see afresh the judiciary, think outside the box and transform the courts without being tied to past practices and traditions.

But all her education, upbringing, aptitude and breaking of judicial records would be meaningless to our people unless she tenaciously reforms the judiciary and makes it transparent, accountable, excellent and trustworthy.

As one who had followed closely her career, I can say with utmost confidence that she would indeed refresh, reengineer, reform and transform the judiciary. Our guest of honor is young enough to be my daughter. She is only two years older than our eldest child.

In fact, my hope and dream is to be alive 18 years from now when I would be 93 years old, and she – at age 70 – would be retiring and proudly bequeathing to our country, to our people and to her own children and grandchildren a truly transparent, accountable, excellent and trustworthy judiciary. Ladies and gentlemen, may I present to you the Honorable Maria Lourdes P. A. Sereno, the 24th chief justice of the Republic of the Philippines.

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