MANILA - The Supreme Court (SC) held a special en banc session on Friday in honor of Chief Justice Teresita Leonardo-De Castro who will be retiring on October 10.
The program was attended by former President Gloria Arroyo, who appointed De Castro to the high court; former Chief Justices Artemio Panganiban and Hilario Davide, Jr., and other retired justices of the high court.
Among other attendees were Senator Richard Gordon, Justice Sec. Menardo Guevarra, justices of the Court of Appeals, Sandiganbayan, and Court of Tax Appeals; diplomats; retired and incumbent judges; court officials and employees; guests and friends.
Associate Justice Noel Tijam gave the opening remarks and headed the retirement ceremonies. He praised De Castro for “doing so much with so little time.”
“You may retire comforted that you have served your purpose and served well,” Tijam said, adding that De Castro’s legacy is restoring collegiality in the SC.
De Castro was appointed to the top judicial post following the ouster of Maria Lourdes Sereno via quo warranto proceedings. When Sereno was appointed Chief Justice in August 2012 by then President Benigno Aquino III, she was most junior at the high court.
During her retirement message, De Castro said, “There are incidents in our lives that are blessings in disguise. My 45-year career in government seemed to have been driven by unseen hands.”
“Seniority is sacrosanct in a collegial court,” De Castro stressed.
She debunked talks that her speaking up against Sereno and the way the latter went against the collegial nature of the high court, as mandated in the Constitution, was aimed at landing the chief magistrate position.
“My promotion to the position of Chief Justice is totally unplanned and neither by human design... I was once an employee of this court, I know their predicament (employees)... I could not, in good conscience, ignore the cause of our court employees.
“Only a member (justice) of the court could bring to the court’s attention the need to protect the needs and rights of the employees who have been demoralized by inaction in the promotion and failure to [observe] standard rules and best practices in filling up positions.”
Short of discussing the Sereno quo warranto case, De Castro said, “People outside the judiciary have misunderstood the issues that beset the court and unfairly maligned us.”
“Despite this we, in the judiciary, held on and remained united,” she added.
“It had nothing to do with politics. It was a valid issue that had to be resolutely addressed.”
Sereno’s ouster was brought about by her repeated failure to file her statements of assets, liabilities and net worth during her two-decade stint at the UP College of Law, and failure to submit the minimum requirement of 10 SALNs when she applied for Chief Justice.
The following tokens were given to De Castro by the SC: Philippine flag, SC flag, SC seal, a brass shingle bearing her name, SC pen, SC timepiece, her Book of Decisions, and the Judicial Robe.
Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio led the awarding of a plaque of appreciation on behalf of the rest of the high court magistrates as he extolled De Castro’s qualities.
"Chief Justice Tess helped restore dignity and harmony in the Supreme Court," Carpio said.
De Castro was also awarded the Chief Justice Jose Abad Santos Award and Statuette of Judicial Excellence.
The SC also unveiled her official portrait during the ceremony - the portrait that will be displayed at the SC halls alongside her 23 predecessors.
De Castro officially retires on Oct. 10 upon reaching the mandatory age of retirement of 70 in the judiciary.
De Castro’s retirement reception dinner was held at the Manila Hotel. Among guests were Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, Senators Frank Drilon and Richard Gordon, former Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, Solicitor General Jose Calida, and Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Panelo.