I have always said that I was uncomfortable with the way Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno was appointed to the Supreme Court. There are unwritten rules, and it does not matter how lofty a President's purposes are – whether they want to clean up or shake up the Judiciary – those rules must be respected when he appoints this country's top magistrate.
It doesn't help that I have little respect for President Benigno Aquino III, who self-righteously violated deeply ingrained norms in pursuit of his own agenda. He wanted to clean up the judiciary? Well so do we all, but it can be done without pissing on tradition. (The same way the "war on drugs" does not necessitate snuffing out poor – emphasis on "poor" – individuals unfortunate enough to be in a cop's crosshairs.)
The rule? You do not appoint the most junior justice to the highest post in the Court. It was an insult to the senior members of the Court, and repugnant to practitioners.
But there is another rule: when the decision has been made, even if that decision was made in the exercise of Aquino's dubious discretion, you bite the bullet and live with it, and hope for the best.
How CJ exceeded expectations
And that we did. As trial practitioners, as brother lawyers, we accepted the appointment of Sereno as Chief Justice.
And we were pleasantly surprised. She exceeded our expectations. She was worthy of the appointment. (READ: The Supreme Court post-Sereno: Better off or not?)
Her decisions are thoroughly researched; well written. Her division has a high (possibly highest) monthly case disposition rate, and not minute resolutions but decisions on the merits.
Under her leadership, every courtroom has a computer and printer, and open court orders are dictated immediately after a hearing, with all lawyers able (and required) to get their copies of the orders within minutes after your hearing ends.
I have seen judges at first struggle and sweat over this procedure when it was first implemented; I have seen these same judges becoming more at ease with the rule, able to dictate their orders clearly, succinctly, and competently.
The strict rules on pre-trial, judicial affidavits, morning and afternoon hearings. The concept of continuous and speedy trials has been in the rules books since I was a student decades ago. Under CJ Sereno, these rules were enforced. And while practitioners moaned and groaned at no longer being able to litigate at a more relaxed pace, for the litigants themselves, what a relief for them to see their cases move swiftly.
These were the changes that Chief Justice Sereno implemented which I personally witnessed.
'Our Chief Justice'
And – without question – there is not a single practitioner who can ever claim that she can be compromised. Or that her integrity has a price tag.
She is the country's Chief Justice. She has marked her territory, and served with honor and with competence.
In becoming the Chief Justice as she defined that post to be, she erased the embarassment of Aquino's arrogant disregard for judicial tradition.
She is not, and should not be seen as, the Aquino Chief Justice.
She is ours.
My justices of the Court. My Chief Justice.
I will not belabor the demerits of the quo warranto decision ousting her. Every one knows the decision was wrong. Everyone has already given his/her two bits on the possible motivation behind that decision, whether personal ill-will, or political pressure.
Some judges and justices have and will go down judicial history with ignominious reputations; they lose every "friend" the New York minute after they step down from the bench. They are the profession's jokes and clowns, and we gleefully sneer at them when they turn in their judge's license plates.
Not Chief Justice Sereno. Her legacy is an unimpeachable reputation, and a record of leadership marked by changes that have and will continue to enhance the judiciary and the legal profession.
It is an honor to have been a practitioner with her at the helm. – Rappler.com
Atty Agnes H. Maranan has been in law practice since 1990. She graduated in 1989 from the University of the Philippines College of Law (Dean’s Medalist), and has been a Senior Partner at the River Santos & Maranan Law Offices since 1992. She is a regular Lecturer for the Mandatory Continuing Legal Education (MCLE) Series organized by the University of the Philippines Law Center.