Friday, December 14, 2007

Justice in Estrada trial appointed to Supreme Court

Justice in Estrada trial appointed to Supreme Court

By Jomar Canlas, Reporter

A JUSTICE in the plunder case against former President Joseph Estrada was appointed to the Supreme Court on Monday.

Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, the Sandiganbayan presiding justice and chairman of the Special Division that heard the Estrada case, confirmed the appointment, but she denied it is a reward for the conviction of Estrada.

De Castro believes she got the job because of merit and her qualification, she told The Manila Times, adding, "It is the grace of God."

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita has sent a transmittal letter containing de Castro's appointment to Chief Justice Reynato Puno on Monday, The Times has learned.

To date, President Gloria Arroyo has appointed 13 justices to the High Court, but only 11 are still serving, as justices Romeo Callejo and Cansio Garcia have retired. De Castro fills the slot of Associate Justice Garcia, who retired October 20 when he turned 70.

There are 15 members of the Supreme Court in all. The four other justices were chosen by former Presidents Fidel Ramos and Estrada—with two appointees each. Chief Justice Puno was named to the Supreme Court by ex-President Ramos, but the appointment as chief justice was made by President Arroyo.

De Castro reportedly got seven votes from the Judicial and Bar Council, along with Court of Appeals Justices Edgardo Cruz and Martin Villarama Jr. Other names that made it to the shortlist are Sandiganbayan Justices Edilberto Sandoval and Francisco Villaruz who reportedly received five votes each. Labor Secretary Arturo Brion also made it to the council's shortlist and got five votes.

The Constitution gives the President the power to appoint members of the Supreme Court, but the Judicial Bar Council makes a shortlist of candidates.

Legal career

De Castro graduated cum laude with a degree in political science at the University of the Philippines in 1968. She took up law, also at UP, graduating in 1972.

She worked as a legal and judicial assistant at the Supreme Court from 1973 to 1978. Afterwards she joined the Department of Justice as state counsel in 1978 and stayed until 1995, eventually becoming assistant chief state counsel.

She was promoted to the Sandiganbayan in 1995 by then-President Ramos. She became presiding justice of the antigraft court in December 2004.


Sen. Richard Gordon welcomed de Castro's appointment. "She is highly qualified. She is independent and very intelligent."

Gordon said de Castro had a lot of experience, and the senator finds her independent-minded and tough. "I named her to the board of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority because she is capable of making me go straight," he said, referring to the time when he was chairman of the free port.

He added that he does not believe that de Castro's appointment is a reward for Estrada's guilty conviction. "President Arroyo pardoned Erap despite [de Castro's] decision, so it is not a reward," Gordon said, referring to Estrada by his nickname. "That was even a slap in [de Castro's] face."

Estrada himself declined to comment. His son, Senate President Pro-Tempore Jinggoy Estrada, could not be reached for comment as of press time.

In the House of Representatives, opposition lawmakers also welcomed the appointment of de Castro to the Supreme Court.

House Senior Deputy Minority Leader Satur Ocampo of the left-leaning Bayan Muna party-list said he sees no point in criticizing the appointment of de Castro as "she has done her work very well."
--With Efren L. Danao and Maricel V. Cruz

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