Friday, August 13, 2010

Justice Lourdes Sereno

Selecting a Supreme Court Justice is an important and delicate task. Many lawyers are undoubtedly up to the task. Of late they have come with impeccable academic credentials, advanced degrees, prior judicial experience, teaching experience (especially abroad), or a list of scholarly publications. With an increasingly homogeneous pool of nominees, the trick for the President is to determine who should be appointed. Is there something different about a candidate that stands out? Is there something in this mass of data that suggests how a potential Justice will conduct herself if appointed?

There was perhaps one bit of information that could have caught the President Aquino's attention when he was examining the latest list submitted by the JBC. When Chief Justice Renato Corona was appointed Chief Justice towards the end of President Gloria Arroyo's term, there was a genuine issue as to whether the President was then covered by a constitutional ban against "midnight appointments." The Supreme Court ultimately resolved the issue in favor of the President.

Interestingly, in her column in BusinessWorld, Solita Monsod wrote that Lourdes Sereno then sent a fax to the new Chief Justice protesting his midnight appointment. Her decision to send a fax, regardless of the possible implications on her career, demonstrated her commitment to her principles. Others might have avoided making politically risky statements to preserve ties with members of the Court (which has influence on the JBC) and to avoid ruining their chances of appointment. Principled stances can ruffle feathers and endanger professional goals. Professor Lourdes Sereno sent the fax anyway and faced the Chief Justice and the Judicial and Bar Council's interrogation.

Justices should demonstrate the same mettle and commitment to principle. They should make decisions based on what is right, not what personal affiliations dictate and regardless of what personal consequences may befall them. For that reason alone, Justice Sereno stood out as an outstanding appointee to the Supreme Court.

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