Bersamin bids Supreme Court goodbye: No regrets

MANILA, Philippines – Marked by controversial ponencias and concurring votes, the 10-year Supreme Court career of Chief Justice Lucas Bersamin is coming to an end, and he said he has no regrets.

"As that moment draws near, I experience a deep sense of personal satisfaction. No regrets," Bersamin said Monday morning, October 14, as he receives an elaborate retirement honors ceremony by justices and employees of the Supreme Court.

Unlike other chief justices in the past, Bersamin's last flag ceremony was fanciful. Padre Faura was closed to traffic, and a red carpet was laid down as he was escorted by honor guards to the Court quadrangle.

Outside the gate of the SC, incumbent justices – except for Associate Justice Jose Reyes Jr – waited under the sun to honor the chief. 

Days before that, a special en banc session was held for his retirement, where Bersamin said he wants to be remembered as the "healing chief justice," an obvious reference to the Maria Lourdes Sereno quo warranto episode that shook the institution to the core.

LOOK: Supreme Court Justices waiting for the arrival of Chief Justice Lucas Bersamin. He is retiring on October 18. This is his last flag ceremony @rapplerdotcom pic.twitter.com/r1o0tzGczF — Lian Buan (@lianbuan) October 14, 2019 

 

Votes and ponencias

Before he retires on October 18, Bersamin will preside over his last en banc session on Tuesday, October 15, where the en banc sitting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET) is expected to finally vote on the vice presidential electoral protest after 3 deferments.

Responding to speculations the ruling would be a departure from PET rules, Bersamin had candidly told media: "Don't worry, hindi ko niluluto (I'm not rigging it)."

Bersamin, and the Supreme Court, had been battling perceptions of partiality to President Rodrigo Duterte. Duterte is enjoying a winning streak in the High Court, with Bersamin concurring in all of the favorable rulings.

In an earlier interview, Bersamin called this perception "unfair."

"I think that's an unfair implication there, para bang kinakampihan ko na ang administration. Lagi kong ipinapaliwanag na ang isang hukom kagaya ko kapag sinuri namin ang isang case may kanya-kanya kaming pag-aaral," Bersamin said in a CNN Philippines interview earlier this October.

(I think that's an unfair implication there, that I am siding with the administration. I always explain that judges like me have our appreciation of cases based on our respective examinations.)

Before Duterte, Bersamin's controversial ponencias included the acquittal of former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo where he introduced the principle of main plunderer. It is a ruling that eliminated the entire government case in the P365-million intelligence fund scam of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO).

It is also a ruling that helped Jinggoy Estrada get bail, and is being cited by other plunder defendants such as alleged pork barrel scam queen Janet Lim Napoles. (READ: Chief Justice Bersamin's philosophy: Restraint in favor of government)

Bersamin also penned the bail grant to plunder defendant Juan Ponce Enrile, a bail based on humanitarian considerations because of old age, which was cited by the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan in keeping Imelda Marcos free despite conviction in 7 counts of graft.

The quo warranto ouster of Sereno which Bersamin concurred in – slammed by dissenters in the Court – led a United Nations Special Rapporteur to say that the judicial independence in the Philippines is under attack.

"I have faithfully served the people, conscientiously discharged my office and dutifully fulfilled their trust," said Bersamin before a beaming, cheering crowd in the Supreme Court.

Legacy

Bersamin leaves the Court in the middle of rebuilding efforts, for which he is credited by some of the members. Bersamin is said to have restored collegiality in a bench that had nasty public quarrels in the recent past.

Appointed to the Court by Arroyo in 2009, Bersamin came from the Court of Appeals, and before that, was a judge at the Quezon City Regional Trial Court (RTC).

He was only 2nd most senior when he was appointed chief justice by Duterte, but Malacañang had defended his appointment by saying he is the most senior in terms of overall years in the judiciary.

Truly, the judiciary has been his home.

"Very sad because I am finally leaving this place and bidding farewell to this community," said Bersamin.

Asked in an earlier press conference what he wants his legacy to be, Bersamin was more inclined to defend controversial decisions that favored the Duterte government, explaining his inclination toward judicial restraint or a philosophy where justices avoid superseding the policies of elected officials.

"The Supreme Court, as a general rule, is a judicially restrained institution, because we respect the separation of powers," Bersamin said.

He will leave the Court with 8 incumbent Duterte appointees, with two more appointments on the way.

As he bid goodbye, Bersamin had these as his last words: "Please be constant in your loyalty to the judiciary as our institution and be steadfast in the fealty to the letter and spirit of the Constitution and to the rule of law." – Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

image