SUPREME COURT (SC) Associate Justice Lucas P. Bersamin has been appointed the new chief justice, replacing retired chief justice Teresita J. Leonardo-De Castro, Justice Secretary and Judicial and Bar Council ex-officio member Menardo I. Guevarra confirmed on Wednesday.
Mr. Bersamin, 69, is the third most senior justice in the SC, after Senior Associate Justice Antonio T. Carpio and Associate Justice Diosdado M. Peralta. The Abra native will serve for less than a year before he retires on Oct. 18, 2019.
In a press conference, Mr. Bersamin assured that he has been independent and he scrutinized cases thoroughly.“Ang pagtingin sa isang bagay (the way of looking at things) from different points of view will give you a different perspective. If your perspective of what is independent is against the government or any administration that has issues in our court, let me assure you, I have always given these matters analytical attention and deep study so when the time comes for me to give a vote or to render a judgment I always do my best to come out with a fair and valid ruling,” he said.
“Maybe your concept of judicial independence is that the government should lose the case. I hate to disappoint you. The government is often better in the arguments than the other side. The government is represented by the Office of the Solicitor-General when it comes to issues raised in the Court of Appeals or in the Supreme Court and there are also many cases where the government loses and yet you do not call that independent. It’s just that the government has less of the merits of the case than the other side,” he added.
“My voting record, it is there. Sometimes I join the decision against the government, sometimes I go in favor of the government,” he said. “As far as the law is concerned I was independent.”
Mr. Bersamin previously voted in favor of the ouster of then chief justice Ma. Lourdes P.A. Sereno in June 2018 via quo warranto. He also voted to allow the burial of the late dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani and in favor of martial law’s implementation and extension in Mindanao. He also concurred in keeping Sen. Leila M. De Lima detained over her drug charges.
Mr. Bersamin said that he and President Rodrigo R. Duterte do not know each other and he only met the President during the oathtaking of his predecessor, Ms. De Castro, at Malacañang.
Asked about prevailing over seniors Messrs. Carpio and Peralta, Mr. Bersamin said, “I think that I have served the longest in the judiciary. I leave that to the president to make a decision of what he meant by giving priority of preference to seniority….But let us trust in his wisdom. He appointed me, that should be the end of it and I don’t think that will be fair to my colleagues to make a judgment comparing them to me. I may lack more qualifications than they have but it’s still up to the appointing powers to exercise the discretion to choose among us who are properly nominated,” he said.
Mr. Carpio is a leading critic of China in the maritime dispute with the Philippines over the West Philippine Sea.
Mr. Bersamin also prevailed over Associate Justices Estela M. Perlas-Bernabe and Andres B. Reyes, Jr.
Mr. Bersamin has served in the judiciary since November 1986, starting as judge of Quezon City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 96. He was in private practice before joining the judiciary.
He then served as Court of Appeals (CA) justice in March 2003 before his appointment as SC associate justice in 2009 by then president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Mr. Bersamin earned his law degree from the University of the East in 1973 and ranked ninth in the Bar Examinations the same year.
Mr. Duterte also appointed Court of Appeals Associate Justice Rosmari D. Carandang as the newest SC associate justice, filling in the position left by Ms. De Castro when she was appointed chief justice on Aug. 25.
Ms. Carandang, 66, served as Manila RTC Branch 12 judge from 1994 to 2003 before she was appointed to the CA. She earned her law degree from the University of the Philippines in 1975 and ranked ninth in the bar examinations the same year.
Ms. Carandang will retire in 2022. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas