Sereno Is Not A Puppet – Palace

MANILA, Philippines - Malacañang is convinced that newly appointed Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes A. Sereno will remain an independent magistrate despite criticisms she may be a puppet of President Benigno S. Aquino III.

Deputy Presidential Spokeswoman Abigail Valte said Sereno's past decisions in the High Court have showed that she has not been beholden to anyone.

Valte also encouraged Sereno's critics to take a look at her SC rulings to dispel their concerns of an alleged biased Chief Justice.

''If we will make such conclusion, let us first check the decisions penned by Chief Justice Sereno since she was appointed as member of the Supreme Court and we can see that she has displayed her independence,'' Valte said in Filipino over government radio.

Valte also brushed aside a report claiming Sereno failed a psychological examination submitted to the Judicial and Bar Council.

She said they would no longer comment on the report which as ''unverified sources.'' She maintained that Sereno was still included in the list recommended by the JBC to the President.

''At this point, the President has fulfilled his constitutional duty of appointing the Chief Justice,'' said Valte, adding that any other questions about the leader of the judiciary can now be addressed to the SC spokesperson.

Still, the 18-year term of Sereno in the High Court was defended by Valte.

''The long period will give her the opportunity to put reforms in place - to start, to continue those reforms, and to make sure that the reforms are institutionalized in the 18 years that she will have in the (Supreme) Court,'' she said.

Sereno became the country's first lady Chief Justice following her appointment by the President. The 52-year-old justice will serve until 2030, when she reaches the mandatory retirement age of 70.

Earlier, militants raised the concern that as an appointee of Aquino to the SC, Sereno may serve as a puppet of the administration.

In a rebuttal, House leaders threw their support behind Sereno as the country's 24th Chief Justice with Speaker Feliciano ''Sonny'' Belmonte Jr. saying that the appointment was ''a good choice.''

''She maybe a new face, but an insider with a reputation of competence and independence and she will prove to be an effective leader of the Judiciary. Let us all give our full support for the new Chief Justice,'' he said.

House Majority Leader and Mandaluyong City Rep. Neptali ''Boyet'' Gonzales II appealed to various camps to ''respect'' the decision of the President because it is a ''part of his constitutional mandate to ensure that needed reforms will be carried in the Judiciary.''

Romblon Rep. Eleandro Jesus Madrona agreed that Sereno should be given a chance to overhaul the entire judiciary. ''The Judicial Branch of government has now the historic opportunity to restore our people's confidence in the judicial system,'' he said.

Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone said he expects Sereno ''to infuse new ideas and fresh start for the SC.''

'' All sectors should rally behind her as she embarks on new reform measures and initiatives in the judiciary,'' he said.

Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) Director General Joel Villanueva, a former party-list representative representing Citizens Battle's Against Corruption (Cibac), also supported Aquino's choice of Sereno.

''It is vital that we stand side-by-side with her, keeping an open mind while being watchful, as she embarks on the daunting task of steering the Supreme Court towards genuine reforms,'' Villanueva said.

Hopes for a better judiciary under Sereno also run high in the Makati Business Club (MBC) as members looked forward to a rebuilding of the people's trust in the institution through greater transparency and accountability in the courts.

In a statement, the MBC hailed the selection of Sereno: ''We believe that the President has chosen a morally upright person with impeccable integrity, independence of mind, and competence essential for the highest magistrate of the land.''

The MBC cited that impeachment trial of former Chief Justice Renato Corona divided the country and greatly tested the faith of the people in our justice system.

''We also hope that she (Sereno) drives the long-delayed and necessary reforms towards uncrowding our congested dockets, the speedy resolution of cases, and the fair and equal application of the law,'' MBC added.

The National Union of People's Lawyers (NUPL) was more conservative in its expectations of Sereno but hoped for her to have a vision for the SC and work to regain the people's trust and confidence in the courts.

NUPL Secretary General Edre U. Olalia said their group shall temper down their expectations and let her decisions and actions speak for themselves.

''She (Sereno) should seize this moment and her quite long reign to concretely bring real reforms to the judiciary especially those who have less in life,'' Olalia said.

''We hope she will have the vision and use her unique position and chance to move the people to seek succor from a Court that should be fair and just and that will put a powerful and mighty in place. Else, it would be an unspeakable tragedy of its own,'' he added.

Meantime, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said she expects a smoother relationship between the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the SC under Sereno.

De Lima, speaking to reporters after the departure honors for the late Secretary Jesse Robredo in the Palace, said there must be partnership and cooperation between the two institutions to strengthen the justice system in the country.

De Lima likewise hailed Sereno as an ''excellent choice'' as the country's new Chief Justice.

''She's brilliant. She's very efficient. Because she is young, she has 18 years in the Court, she has all the time and all opportunity to put in the needed reforms in the judiciary, to inject dynamism and vision,'' she said.

De Lima was excluded in the JBC list of nominees for Chief Justice due to pending disbarment cases against her. She protested that she was singled out in the unfair selection process but eventually respected the decision of the council. -with reports from Charissa M. Luci, Anna Liza T. Villas, and Francis T. Wakefield