On Probation: Chief Justice Maria Lourdes A. Sereno

JoeAm has been running a series of articles focused on “A First Class Philippines”, working his way past the sensationalist media which tend to focus on flaws and the anti-thugs who relentlessly tear down the Philippines and anybody who objects to their obnoxious line.

It is too early to rate newly appointed Chief Justice Maria Lourdes A. Sereno. The appointment itself is first class, continuing President Aquino’s penchant for finding good, sincere, honest, bright, capable people to put into key offices. But the proof is in the judicial pudding and that will take a couple of years to bake.
I laugh when the antis condemn the President for picking a judge who has ruled sympathetically to his own thinking, for instance, on the attempted midnight escape of ex-President Arroyo. As if the President would be smart to pick someone sure to UNDERMINE his efforts to build a responsible, honest, capable Philippine government. Like that would be smart!  Hoo ha.
There is no doubt that CJ Sereno has the POTENTIAL to be rated First Class as a Chief Justice. She has the knowledge of law, the independence of thinking, the intelligence and the experience to be successful. But she must do some very important things to prove her mettle:
Wean herself from the Executive Branch.
Okay, good joke. Now get to work!
Okay, smiles and cheers, we are all on the same page here, happy with the appointment, as we can see in the enclosed photo grabbed from the PCIJ blog. But the Judiciary must stand independent so that it can responsibly and independently rule on cases that involve the Executive Branch.
CJ Sereno must show, without question, that she is not a lackey of the President. She does not have to rule against him to do that. She has to rule intelligently and forthrightly with a keen eye on the law. History suggests she can do this.
Assure Transparency and Honorableness
Judges in the Philippines do not reveal their personal wealth. You know the reason as well as I do: enrichment derived from determinations “in law” that go to the litigating party that pays the most. This must change or the courts will remain suspect. SALN’s must be the rule, not the exception. And the transparency has to be in enough detail to track the money year-to-year.
The excuses for continuing to operate in secret are infantile. “People will harass them. Their families will be open to kidnapping if their wealth is evident.” So on the infinitesimal chance harm might come to a judge, the whole judicial system is opened to bribes and secretive behavior.
  • You know, my scale of pros and cons broke when I loaded those arguments on. Snapped.
The notion that judges are on the take is disgusting. The place where the law is rendered simply must be impeccable to be respectable.
CJ Sereno must clean up the corruption and get judges focused on law, not favoritism. Transparency of financial records is an important first step.
Build Efficiency
The Judiciary has in place some of the basic disciplines to drive toward better efficiency. For example, the number of rulings issued by court are tracked. This kind of statistical accountability is important. Not only number of cases, but cases by type, and number or percentage of cases appealed, and the record on appeal: judgments endorsed or reversed.
But the compilation of statistics is not enough.
The question needs to be asked, substantively, “What are we doing in our courts? How can we focus energies where they will do the most to build respect for law in the Philippines?”
Here is an example. Annulment hearings take a tremendous amount of judicial time. In the Philippines, marriage is a contract with no termination provision. When husband and wife both want out of the contract, the State insists that they remain in it, and holds numerous hearings to disprove assertions contrary to the State’s authority. How ridiculous on two counts: (1) that so much judicial energy is spent on minor family matters where there is no serious offense, and (2) that the State sets out with the intent to prove both litigating parties wrong, for wanting an end to the marriage.
Why not simply stipulate that both parties want the marriage to end, and end it?
If this cannot be done within the Judiciary, than appeal to the Legislature for a Divorce Bill to take the hefty burden of mediating domestic issues off the courtrooms and judges.
Change the fundamental rationale of what the courts SHOULD be doing, which is to focus on the greatest harm, and get rid of the nuisance cases that take up so much time and energy.
Speed of resolution is ESSENTIAL for justice to be fair. If a case cannot be ruled on expediently, dismiss it. Stop punishing people without cause. The presumption of innocence should prevail. It scares you to release people like ex-President Arroyo? Then get the damn case to trial!!
Build Law Discipline
Philippine case law is a mess because too many rulings are based on favors and favorites rather than law. Appeals galore, reversals from this administration to the next, cases in the courts for 25 years knocking about without resolution (the Hacienda). A mess.
CJ Sereno must begin to build quality into legal renditions. Excellent, law-based judges need to be promoted. Poor judges need to be pushed down or out. Attorneys must meet rigorous ethical standards. Perhaps a scoring system is needed to evaluate attorneys on capability and performance. Not to mention judges.
Build the quality, where administrative efficiency and legal precision are fundamental requirements. Pay well for judges who demonstrate that quality. Prune the rotten fruit.
CJ Sereno’s advantage is fundamentally that the Judiciary is on bottom now and the only direction is up.
Our Verdict
Two year’s of probation. Report to the people regularly.
Profile of Chief Justice Sereno (Source: abs-cbnnews.com):
Associate Justice Maria Lourdes A. Sereno is the first appointee to the Supreme Court (SC) by Pres. Noynoy Aquino and the youngest among the nominees for Chief Justice coming from the high tribunal.
She was born on July 2, 1960; she is 52 years old.
She completed her law degree at the University of the Philippines (UP) in 1984 as Class Valedictorian and cum laude.
As pre-law, she took up AB Economics at the Ateneo De Manila University (ADMU) where she graduated in 1980.
She completed her secondary education in 1976 at the Quezon City High School, with Honors; her elementary education was completed in 1972 when she graduated Class Salutatorian from the Kamuning Elementary School.
She had her post-graduate degree at the UP School of Economics with the Master of Arts in Economics Program which she finished in 1992. In 1993, she completed another masteral degree, this time, Master of Laws, at the University of Michigan, Michigan, USA.
Justice Sereno was appointed to the Supreme Court on Aug. 13, 2010.
Professional background
She started her career in private practice as a junior associate of the Sycip Salazar Feliciano and Hernandez law firm in 1986.
Starting in1994 up to 2008, she served as legal counsel of various government offices such as the Office of the President (OP), Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA), Dept. of Trade and Industry (DTI), and WTO-AFTA. Sometime between 1995 to 1996, she headed the Information and Public Division office of the UP Law Complex.
Also, in 1995, she served as consultant for Judicial Reform of the UNDP, WB, and USAID; she served in this capacity up to 2002.
From 1996 to 1999, she was Director of the UP Institute of Legal Studies.
In 1998, she was a counsellor of the WTO Appellate Body.
In 1999, she served as Commissioner and Chairperson of the Steering Committee of the Preparatory Commission on Constitutional Reform.
Sereno was a lecturer at the Dept. of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Foreign Service Institute from 1996 to 2007.
She served as a lecturer in Electronic Commerce Law at the AIM in 2000, at the same time, at the Murdoch University lecturing on International Business Law from 2001 t0 2002. She also lectured on International Business Law at the University of Western Australia from 2003 up to 2007.
In 2004, she was a lecturer on International Trade Law at the Hague Academy of International Law.
She was a longtime professor at the UP, teaching for 20 years, from 1986 to 2002.
She became the Executive Director of the AIM in 2009, a post she held on to for a year.
Sereno became president of ACCESSLAW, Inc. in 2000, a post she continues to enjoy up to the present.
Awards, other credentials
In her 25 years as a lawyer and educator, Sereno received the following awards:
– 1998 Outstanding Women in the Nation’s Service
– 2000 Most Outstanding Alumna Award, Quezon City High School
– 2003 Most Oustanding Alumna Award, Kamuning Elementary School
– 1991 Provincial Citation, Camarines Sur
She was also able to edit the book, Thirty Years and Beyond (UP Law, 1997).
Sereno was the key writer on Law and Economics and the Constitution and Judicial Review of Economic Decisions.
She also drafted the legal framework for the operations of the first paperless trading of securities in the country for the Bureau of Treasury (BT).
Endorsements for Chief Justice, oppositions
Sereno was not automatically nominated for the top judicial post for being one of the most junior magistrates of the Supreme Court, rather, she was nominated by the following:
– Felma Roel Singco (June 13, 2012)
– Reagan De Guzman (June 13, 2012)
– Atty. Fidel Thaddeus Borja (June 14, 2012)
– Attys. Jordan Pizarras, et al. (June 15, 2012)
– Christian Legal Society through Atty. Salvador Fabregas (June 14, 2012)
– Bishop Efraim Tendero (June 18, 2012)
– UP Women’s Circle (June 13, 2012)
25 Responses to “On Probation: Chief Justice Maria Lourdes A. Sereno”
  1. Anonymous says:

    Hello again JoeSereno is a good choice based on the motives of1. Independence : she was a professional lecturer, counselor representing government and International bodies interest. Her last position was Executive director of AIM, a private educational entity. In other words, she does not have a baggage of being associated with established law firms both here and abroad. She does not have history of being in cohorts with fellow justices in deciding cases. An outsider from insiders, probably.2. Restore trust in judiciary: she has 18 years to forge her legacy. The institutional damage needs slow approach to transformation to the old glory of judges and justices.Her first good move was silence the justices regarding press interviews. Policy following the justices of US supreme court. They don't give personal interviews for publicity. Other orders followed: releasing her SALN and restructuring memberships of SC divisions.She should continue the good works of Carpio when he acted chief justice, transparency of judicial funds accountability and releasing SALN of justices annually upon request(rules on release still pending)

  2. Anonymous says:

    Continuation of aboveCJ Sereno must now order release of all SALN in judiciary without preconditions. That is setting good example to both Legislative and Executive branchesJohnny Lin

  3. Yes, thanks for the additional background and update on some of her early moves, which are excellent (going for the dignity of silence and release of financial information). I think she has the fundamental character and knowledge to be a truly superior Chief Justice, but she needs to sever cozy relations with the Executive Branch and apply a great deal of executive moxie to get the courts unplugged and working on important matters.

  4. Not according to Anthony Taberna 😀 Seriously that dude is so over his head, his anti PNoy persona is slowly leaking out

  5. Anonymous says:

    Johnny,Those are good cookies for CJ Sereno.No wonder Midas Marquez doesnt ruin my days anymore.Its Jack

  6. Anonymous says:

    From: Island Jim-e (aka: The Cricket)1. Question: Is there such a group as a "JudicialThink Tank" for the Philippines? If not, why not?If there is I would hope they have a long "laundry-list" of tasks to accomplish to overhaul the legalsystem from the ground up to include a jury system.If not, there should…maybe comprised of a fewuniversity professors, a few off island legal typeexpats, a "stone killer" and a few business lawtype professionals.2. I have heard that there are very, very many openJudgeships available to be filled and the courts thereof staffed correctly (with soooo many unemployedor under-employeed attorneys that should not be a problem to address with success). The backed up courtdockets need to be cleared up as quickly as possible(I would like to file a few cases myself against a few of the cheats I have had the displeasure to dobusiness with and my attorney said don't waste thetime, energy and money on to date).3. Traffic courts daily please–I have been given tounderstand that the police would start enforcement ofthe traffic laws, rules, regulations if the judgeswere available to hear the cases–the money generatedin parking tickets and fines would be a good resourcefor the courts improvement fund, the police would onceagain be able to hold their heads high and improve the"respect" and "face"/pride of the corp. Sidebar:it would be a good idea to put a few parking metersaround the town, provide for sufficent parking accessat the courts and enforce these with judicial "meter-maids" to support the court and judicial processingdepartments-offices, etc..4. As soon as a jury-system can be put in place, complete with a grand jury then I know that the islands government and criminal system would improveand true justice will be the end result.5. Question: What is the "table of organization"for the administrative and clerical support systemfor the courts? If there is a administrative "captain" of some sort is a policy and proceedurefor the court system prepared, and if prepared, who does the quarterly review, and where to find thejob descriptions of each office, etc….!I hope that our new SUPER-JUDGE has the ability tofind, employee, supervise a "special oversight"in-house committe to keep track of the courts business, make semi-annual reviews, be a soundingboard for in-house and public formal complaints(to improve operations, etc…) and has thecommon sense to identify/find/employe a greatadministative-manager-leader "ruler" so that shecan have some time to sleep!Chirp!

  7. I wish I could get your remarks in front of every mayor, and every judge. Funding traffic enforcement by enforcing laws is an essential discipline that is absolutely missing. Think of the jobs it would provide!!And the courts. What a mess. How can you have a law abiding system when you can't get damages into the court. It is like parents who never discipline their kids. The kids learn to run riot. And that give us the Philippines.Yes. an administrative manager, an executive, should be tops on the hire list of the Chief Justice.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Observation From: Island jim-eIf the court system does not have a business plan,table of organization, Job, department, individualcourt detail description of functions then I would vote for having a professionally recognizedoutside consultant to prepare one–the judicialchief administrator could do the implementationand review (with a provision for reward/bonusand one for punishment/seperation from employmentfor the betterment of the Nation.Compliance would be the job of the employees andthey need to be constantly reminded of what it takes to do the job (protect and serve) in aprofessional, expeditious, moral, ethical manner!If it takes a daily reminder of duties untileveryone is conditioned to excellent proformancethen so be it! Chirp!

  9. Anonymous says:

    Yesterday, while waiting for the jeepney ride, a tabloid newstory caught my attention: Pnoy who doesn't like "wang-wang" (read:hornblowing VIP treatment in traffic) appoints Sereno (literally means siren or horn) as new CJ. Months ago, after a rash of accidents involving the bus, a joker said, This was so because Pnoy said in his inaugural speech, "Kayo ang bus ko" (a play on "kayo ang boss ko" or you are my boss). Clearly, it's more pun in the Philippines.DocB

  10. Edgar Lores says:

    Just for the record.Sereno’s dissenting decisions are the stuff of legends:1. Arroyo Departure TRO. In a 7-6 decision, Sereno disallowed Gloria Arroyo to “escape” the country for prosecution on plunder and election sabotage charges.2. Corona Dollars TRO. In an 8-5 decision, Sereno wrote that a TRO would result in “an iniquitous situation, where the supreme interest of the public to maintain accountability among public officers is relegated to the sidelines in favour of a statutory privilege that arose purely out of economic considerations."3. FASAP Case Reopening. Sereno wrote a 52 page dissenting opinion, supported by Perlas-Bernabe. She said the majority’s view “opened a Pandora box full of future troubles for Philippine judicial decision-making”.4. Del Castillo Plagiarism Case. Only Sereno and Carpio-Morales dissented in a 10-2 decision…She said the court will be remembered for justifying plagiarism on the flimsy rationale of “no malicious intent” to pass off someone else’s work as his own. Two controversies have dogged her:1. Hacienda Luisita. Sereno voted with the majority to distribute the sugar plantation to its farmers/workers. In a separate ruling, the court set the valuation of the land at 1989 prices. Sereno dissented. It is argued she favours a higher valuation of the expropriated land based on 2006 prices. She disagrees with the interpretation; she says it’s the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), and not the court, that should decide the issue of just compensation.2. PIATCO Fees. She is accused of not declaring income from this case in her SALN. To date, she has released all her SALNs.

  11. The more I read, the more I like her. Keen mind making decisions based on law not politics. I don't know about PIATCO fees. It doesn't cause me to second guess unless there is a pattern of hiding income. Thanks for the info, Edgar.

  12. joy says:

    hi edgar, sereno voted to distribute hda. luisita in favor of the farmers. she favored higher land valuation. what are the leftists griping about — they held a protest action at the supreme court on her first work day as cj? thanks for enlightening.

  13. Note to file:CJ Sereno said in a speech today that the courts need to stop using paper and go automated. That is a good thing, but her justification was weird. She wants to do this, not to improve efficiency of the courts, but to use fewer trees. To be sensitive to the environmental impact of paper.

  14. Edgar Lores says:

    Thanks, Joy. It is true that Sereno is in favor of using 2006 valuation rather than 1989 valuation. Her dissent reads in part that compensation "should be reckoned from the fair market value under the law, rules and jurisprudence, specifically as of the date of the issuance of the Notice of Coverage on 02 January 2006." She told the JBC "Hindi namin napagusapan kung magkano talaga." And I believe, as I wrote, that she would leave the actual price to the DAR.Just from a fairness point of view, without consideration of the sums involved, she is asking what valuation should be used in terms of time? The more or less current price within the decade or a price that is more than 20 years old?True, the outcome of her dissent, if it were the majority opinion, would no doubt result in a higher price. It is also possible – though not probable – that it could also result in a lower price if the value of the land decreased. Improbable, but not impossible, yes? But hers is a minority opinion. The owners of the hacienda have filed, or will file, for a motion of reconsideration. In that case, she must recuse herself and leave it to her colleagues to settle the matter.

  15. Anonymous says:

    The next move CJ Sereno has to do to start her court revitalization is to appoint a new court administrator who oversees all lower courts.Midas Marquez has to resign voluntarily to give CJ a free hand or SC en banc must vote to unseat Midas. That is the rule, en banc votes on the court administrator.Without Midas voluntary withdrawal or en banc vote vacating the position, conclusively the first hindrance to judiciary reform are SC associate justices themselves. Let us see how reforms thru cooperation could be achieved by each justices.

  16. Anonymous says:

    Addendum:Remember, Sereno castigated Marquez to limit his press release to court decision and Midas responded by elaborating that Sereno's opinion was minority decision and spoke for itself(ouch)!Their next encounter is worth watching. Sereno is now immediate boss of Midas!Johnny Lin

  17. Anonymous says:

    That means the biggest mouth in the country is in hot water.Its Jack

  18. Interesting, Johnny. Nice place to focus our attention, and glad you got through! I have the feeling MM is polishing up his resume. It would be bad form, I think, for the Chief Justice to keep him on, and I'd be shocked if the associate justices did not to the CJ bidding. That would be like not letting a general choose his own Chief of Staff. Bad form, too.

  19. Anonymous says:

    I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for Midas Touch to quit. Sereno SALN to be opened. Good. Please check lawyer's fees from winning the PIATCO-NAIA3 arbitration case. Could be hefty. Also 2 entanglements with business enterprises and no clear cut divestment. That's according to SEC records from Ms. Vitug's account in Rappler. Clearly, the new CJ is going to be seen in a new light, harsh but necessary, coming from that impeachment of a bullshitter of a CJ.How about barring Titong Mendoza's letters and importunings next? Or no more Justice Velasco golf tournament? Or PAL freebies? You are right Joe, SC's down but not out and the only way to go is up.DocB

  20. Good points Doc. One of the big issues is how to move forward and upward when just about everybody, justices and congressmen alike, have been dirtied by sloppy practices of the past. We can't get legislator SALN's, I would guess, because they are such a mess. I'd be happy with declaring a general amnesty on SALN's prior to 2011, using 2011 as the benchmark, then going forward. Somehow we have to declare the past dead and get on with the future.

  21. Edgar Lores says:

    There is another pending item that might shed light on Sereno's executive skills. This is the matter of Corona's retirement entitlements, if any. He was impeached and probably should not get anything, plus he has his dollar stash to live on in relative comfort.

  22. Wow, that will be fun to deal with. Yes, she has some tests ahead . . .

  23. Bill In Oz says:

    Hey Joe, your remarks about the need for reform of the legal marriage ‘annulment process’ were made 5 years ago. Ditto for your comment about a new divorce law.

    Well in those 5 years neither of these things has happened.

    The Philippines can do better.

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