Chief Justice Teresita Leonardo-de Castro is set to retire after serving just 41 days as the country’s top magistrate.
De Castro was appointed by President Duterte as the head of the Supreme Court in August, despite her being just weeks away from the mandatory retirement age of 70.
When she steps down tomorrow (Monday, October 8) she will be the shortest-serving Chief Justice in Philippine history.
She replaced Maria Lourdes Sereno, a critic of the president who was controversially ousted in May.
Critics have suggested that the president gave De Castro the post as a reward for her role in getting rid of Sereno. She was among the eight justices who voted to unseat Sereno, the youngest chief magistrate ever appointed. The president and De Castro deny this.
De Castro has stressed that her legacy as Supreme Court justice would not be determined by her short term.
“Even when the position of Chief Justice was beyond my imagination, I was already working on many projects which I want to be done when I retire not as Chief Justice, but as Associate Justice,” she said.
She is also ending her 45-year career in the judiciary.
She began her career as a law clerk at the Supreme Court in 1973 after earning her law degree at the University of the Philippines in 1972. She served as state counsel at the Department of Justice in 1978, assistant chief state counsel in 1997, associate justice of the Sandiganbayan in the same year, and presiding justice of the anti-graft court in 2004.
In 2007, then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo appointed De Castro as associate justice.
No successor has yet been named, although the four most senior Supreme Court judges to replace De Castro are Associate Justices Antonio Carpio, Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Mariano Del Castillo, and Estela Perlas-Bernabe.
However, Dean Soledad Mawis of the Lyceum of the Philippines University has emphasised that seniority “should not be a factor” in the search for a replacement. Instead the emphasis should be on competence, integrity, probity and independence of candidates.
“Guided by those four qualifications, I think the Chief Justice must be able to restore faith, as much as possible be free from politics. That should be the focus to make sure that everybody would feel that our Supreme Court is an independent institution,” she told ANC.
The independence of the next Chief Justice will be tested when a legal battle over the withdrawal of Senator Antonio Trillanes IV’s amnesty reaches the high court, Dean Mawis added.
Last month President Duterte nullified an amnesty absolving Trillanes of charges over two failed mutinies. This was due to his alleged failure to apply for the reprieve properly and express guilt for his crime. The senator has denied this.
“Sooner or later, it will go up to the Supreme Court and to my mind it will be a litmus test. They must decide with independence in mind. This is a very political issue to begin,” Dean Mawis said.
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