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Newly-appointed Chief Justice Maria Lourdes P. Aranal Sereno (rostrum) delivers a message during the 23rd Presidents of Law Associations in Asia (POLA) Conference. The Integrated Bar of the Philippines plays host to the conference at Marriott Hotel Newport City in Pasay City on Aug. 29. Also in photo are POLA members: (seated extreme left hidden photo) Jonathan Temm, president, New Zealand Law Society; Lim Chee Wee, president, Bar Council of Malaysia; (3rd from left) Roan I. Libarios, IBP National President Chair, 23rd POLA Conference; (extreme right) Isomi Suzuki, president-Elect, LAWASIA; Catherine Gale, president, Law Council of Australia; and Akira Kawamura, president, International Bar Association.  (PNA photo by Jess M. Escaros Jr.)


MANILA — Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno started her 18-year term by allowing the full disclosure of her Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net worth (SALN) for 2011.

The Supreme Court (SC), according to an insider, approved the release of Sereno’s SALN during a full-court session over which she presided for the first time as the 24th chief justice and first woman appointed to the fifth highest post in the land.

The source said it was Sereno herself who sought approval of the release of her SALN during full-court session, based on new rules on the release of SALNs of justices and judges.

Her SALN, however, was not released in the afternoon due to “pressing work demand,” the SC public information office said.

Sereno and other aspirants for the chief justice post had submitted their SALNs to the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) during the screening process.

They were, however, not made public because of a confidentiality rule.

Earlier this year, she released a summary of her SALN for 2010 that showed a total net worth of more than P17.8 million.

Her predecessor Renato Corona was removed from the top judicial post by the Senate impeachment court on May 29 for culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust for failing to declare all his wealth in his SALN.

SC divisions reshuffled

During a closed-door session Tuesday, the justices also decided to defer resolution of pending cases until their next meeting to give way to the reshuffle of members of the different court divisions.

Sereno, as chief justice, becomes the chair of the first division with Justice Teresita Leonardo-de Castro as working chair and Justices Lucas Bersamin, Martin Villarama Jr. and Bienvenido Reyes as members.

Senior Justice Antonio Carpio, who was bypassed the second time around with Sereno’s appointment, remains as chair of the second division with Justices Arturo Brion, Mariano del Castillo, Jose Perez and Estela Perlas-Bernabe as members.

The third division is chaired by Justice Presbitero Velasco with Justices Diosdado Peralta, Roberto Abad and Jose Mendoza as members.

The reorganization was laid down in Sereno’s special order No. 1298.

Also Tuesday, Sereno vowed to bring the judiciary back to its “golden days” when there was “dignified silence” in the halls of the SC.

The new SC chief has declined requests for interviews from media outfits even after promising to institute reforms and transparency in the High Court.

Sereno explained a “dignified silence” is intended “to minimize susceptibility to misinterpretation.”

“Wisdom seeks me to return the Supreme Court to its days of dignified silence — when its justices were heard when read through their writings, and when actions of the Court were best seen in their collective resolutions,” she stressed.

The Chief Justice also explained that granting media interviews might distract her from “more fundamental and urgent problems besetting the judiciary.”

She stressed the judiciary is “not a political branch of government.”

She stressed the high tribunal’s commitment is “to be deliberate, accurate, sober and carefully balanced before arriving at its decisions and in the presentation of such decisions.”

“We will seek ways on how to best respond to the needs of media for accurate and timely information,” she vowed.

Corona, her predecessor, was more open to media interviews.
He personally visited radio and TV programs to explain his “midnight appointment,” as well as his answers to issues raised against him during his impeachment trial.

The SC has a spokesperson tasked to deal with the media and who is coterminous with the Chief Justice.

Sereno has yet to name a new spokesperson as she extended the term of acting spokesperson Ma. Victoria Gleoresty Guerra “until further orders.”

In the long history of the High Court, there have been only two spokespersons, the first being Ismael Khan, followed by now Court Administrator Jose Midas Marquez.

While SC employees warmly received Sereno, militant groups gathered outside the SC building on Padre Faura in Manila to protest her appointment.

They branded her an “Aquino puppet.”

The protesters led by Anakpawis echoed the fear of farmers of Hacienda Luisita that the ruling ordering total distribution of the 4,915.75-hectare hacienda might be reversed under Sereno’s watch.

Sereno pegged the land valuation based on the fair market value of the property in 2006, or P2.45 million per hectare.

Corona wanted the computation based on the 1989 value or just P40,000 per hectare.

His opinion prevailed after getting the support of the majority of the justices, but he was impeached by allies of Mr. Aquino in the House a month later.