A breath of Fresh Air for High Court

Why does World Billionaire Lucio Tan Have Such a Troubled Airline?

A breath of fresh air for high court

Calling A Spade... -- By Solita Collas-Monsod

PNoy will be appointing three Supreme Court associate justices within his first year of office (barring untimely deaths or resignations in the court) -- one immediately to replace Renato Corona who was Gloria Arroyo’s midnight appointee as chief justice, and two by June next year to replace Conchita Carpio Morales and Eduardo Antonio Nachura who will both be reaching retirement age.

A fourth vacancy in the court will occur in May 2014, when Roberto A. Abad retires. And a fifth vacancy will definitely come up on April 14, 2016, when Martin Villarama turns 70 -- still within PNoy’s term -- but unless PNoy decides to do a Gloria Arroyo, that vacancy will be filled up by the next president.

I have never lobbied for a Supreme Court wannabe, but I am making an exception this time, for the most obvious of reasons: the Supreme Court’s reputation is arguably at its nadir, what with the poor quality of some of its decisions, and the increasing frequency of its somersaulting on its better ones.

Two examples of the former are of course the mental gymnastics and leaps of logic that accompanied the decision that the Supreme Court (and only the Supreme Court) appointments were exempt from the constitutional provision against midnight appointments; and the latest booboo where the ponente not only plagiarized (which is bad enough) but misunderstood what he was plagiarizing, thinking that it supported his argument (which was really the pits -- his mistake was pointed out not only by Philippine lawyers, but by the author of the plagiarized work). Worse, some of his colleagues tried to defend him.

With respect to the somersaulting, it is enough to point out that in the 30-year period between 1970 (the earliest case cited where a second motion of reconsideration or MR was allowed by the SC) and 2000, only three second-MRs were entertained by the high court. But between 2002 and 2008, the number tripled to nine. There is more: In 2009, in the case involving the cityhood of 16 municipalities, a THIRD MR was entertained, which ended up reversing the original decision. Good grief.

Thus the Supreme Court is in dire need of beefing up, as it were, and with all due apologies to the rest of those on the JBC short list, I am rooting for the appointment of Ma. Lourdes "Meilou" Sereno as part of that process of improvement and reform.

I am in good company, actually. Retired SC Associate Justice Florentino "Toy" Feliciano is also rooting for her. Unfortunately, neither he nor I can be considered as "powerful" backers -- you have to be an important politician or a large campaign contributor or part of the inner circle to qualify for that -- so I am hoping to convince the public of her worth so they can communicate their support to PNoy himself.

What is so special about Sereno? That she has a first-rate mind, there is no doubt. She got the best of education through scholarships because of that intellect (her parents were not wealthy) -- an undergraduate degree in economics from the Ateneo de Manila University, and her law degree (valedictorian) from UP. Plus a graduate law degree from the University of Michigan, where she was again on scholarship. She taught at the UP College of Law for 20 years, and at various times and is now executive director of the Asian Institute of Management’s public policy think tank.

So far, though, that kind of record can be matched by any number of people. What is matchless about her -- and now we’re getting into the nitty-gritty -- is, first, that she is no stranger to judicial reform, being the principal architect of the first major judicial reform program under the Narvasa Court in 1996, and as a consultant to the World Bank, USAID, and UNDP on several areas of judicial reform. Thus she will be in the best position to make sure of their implementation once she is on the "inside", i.e., a member of the court.

Moreover, she is no stranger to management and administration -- aside from her executive directorships, she was elected chair in 1999 of the Steering Committee of Erap Estrada’s Preparatory Commission on Constitutional Reform, and saw to it that the report was completed ahead of time -- so the probability is very high that she will have no case backlogs .

Third, she is computer literate to boot, and recognizing the potential of technology, established and became president of the first business community of legal scholars, Accesslaw (together with the likes of SC Justice Jose Campos and Haydee Yorac). One can only imagine what she will be able to do to get the SC records straightened out and updated (the SC at this point does not even know what its case backlog is -- at least as far as the Philippine Statistical Yearbook is concerned).

Fourth, she has not only taught in UP (and the Philippine Judicial Academy), but in the Hague Academy of International Law (Netherlands), the University of Western Australia and Murdoch University (both in Western Australia). Her papers are have also been published abroad. Her stature is international.

Fifth, on top of all that, she is not only an excellent legal teacher, but an excellent legal practitioner as well -- served as counsel at the Appellate Body of the WTO in Geneva, Switzerland, and more recently, won (as co-counsel with Toy Feliciano) the two largest international cases (both involving Fraport and PIATCO) involving the Philippines -- involving over a billion dollars, going head to head with top international lawyers. Not to mention she was the lawyer who convinced the Supreme Court that the GRP-MILF agreement was unconstitutional. National AND international stature.

As if that weren’t enough, Toy Feliciano provides a sixth and extremely important argument in her favor: he says he is convinced that she does not suffer from any extraordinary attraction to money or the comforts and pleasures that money might be expected to bring -- and her husband shares her basic human and professional values. Toy is of the firm belief that she would resist any egregious effort to influence her thinking and decision about the legal merits of any case that she may be assigned to as ponente or otherwise comes before the Court for other words, she cannot be bought.

Need I say more? No, but I will end the spiel on Meilou by saying that apparently, in the public interview with the JBC, Chief Justice Corona seemed to take offense at her advocacy for reforms. He also asked her whether it was true that two of her classes in UP asked for her removal from the college because of her absences (not true; case was to force her to change their grades; case dismissed, and the valedictorian of that class, when he topped the bar, cited her excellent teaching as one of the major reasons for his performance). In any case, the rumor is that Corona did not vote for her -- in spite of her fantastic CV.

Another speculation: that he was miffed at her because she had previously sent him a fax protesting his midnight appointment.

Please to understand, reader, that I have met Sereno only twice in my life -- our major contact, if it can be called that, is that we were on opposite sides of the JPEPA issue. But I admire her work. And her work ethic. She will be the breath of fresh air that the Supreme Court so badly needs at this point.

And while we are on the topic of important appointments, I have said it before, and I will say it again: I hope Justice Secretary Leila de Lima very seriously considers, and plugs for the appointment of Catalino Generillo Jr. either as head of PCGG, or the commissioner in charge of prosecuting the case against Lucio Tan, et. al.

If Generillo was such a threat to Tan that Tan’s lawyer and Solicitor General Agnes Devanadera had him fired, then that should be the biggest recommendation for him. He certainly has the qualifications for the job, but most importantly, he is as familiar with the case as he is with the back of his hand.

It should be remembered that it was Haydee Yorac who took him into the PCGG. And like Sereno, he cannot be bought. Competence. Integrity. In spades.

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