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The three in the running to be Philippines’ next top judge

The three in the running to be Philippines' next top judge

MANILA, Philippines — For the fourth time in his term, President Rodrigo Duterte will be evaluating applicants for the country’s next top judge.

Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta, in a sudden announcement in December 2020, said he will be officially hanging up his judicial robes a year earlier than the mandatory retirement age of 70.

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Three SC magistrates vying for chief justice spot 

Three justices are applying for the chief justice post. They are: Senior Associate Justice Estela Perlas-Bernabe and Associate Justices Alexander Gesmundo and Ramon Paul Hernando.

Associate Justices Marvic Leonen and Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa were also nominated but did not submit documents.

The three SC justices are set to face the Judicial and Bar Council on March 10 as the panel rejected, in part, the court’s recommendation to waive the requirement of holding a public interview. Past public interviews for SC justice—and even ombudsman—aspirants centered on the applicants’ reform plans in the institution, their wealth declaration documents, oppositions filed to their candidacy and their opinions on controversial cases.

The JBC, in 2019, held closed-door interviews for senior nominees for chief justice.

Here is a quick look at the profiles of the three aspiring to head the judiciary:

Senior Associate Justice Estela Perlas-Bernabe

Of the three applicants, Bernabe is the most senior justice in terms of service at the tribunal. President Benigno Aquino III appointed Bernabe, then a Court of Appeals justice, to the high court in 2011.

This is Bernabe’s third time to vie for the chief justice spot.

Bernabe hails from Plaridel, Bulacan. She obtained her Bachelor of Science in Commerce degree from St. Paul College Manila, where she graduated Summa Cum Laude. She earned her law degree from the Ateneo College of Law, where she graduated salutatorian.

During her stint in the private law practice, Bernabe worked with China Banking Corp., Paramount Finance Corp., and the National Home Mortgage Finance Corporation from 1978 to 1993.

In 1996, she was appointed as Metropolitan Trial Court Judge in Makati, then was moved to the Makati Regional Trial Court in 2002. After four years, she became a justice of the appellate court.

She wrote the 2013 decision that held that the Priority Development Assistance Funds (PDAF) or congressional pork barrel is unconstitutional.

Associate Justice Alexander Gesmundo

Gesmundo was President Rodrigo Duterte’s fourth appointee to the SC, and is currently the most senior among them.

Like Bernabe, Gesmundo is also a graduate of Ateneo Law School.

A year after passing the Bar, he entered government service in 1985 as trial attorney in the Office of the Solicitor General. He was promoted to assistant solicitor general in 2002.

Gesmundo became a Sandiganbayan justice in October 2005. He served the anti-graft court for over a decade, from October 2005 to August 2017.

At the SC, Gesmundo sits as chairperson of the Technical Working Group for the Revision of the Law Student Practice Rule and the Organizing Committee of the 2019 Legal Education Summit. He is also a member of the SC’s Committees on Computerization and Library, on Revision of the Rules of Court and the Special Committee on Speedy Trial.

Gesmundo penned the ruling that junked former law Dean Jaime Ibañez’s petition challenging the constitutionality of Republic Act 11469 or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act.

The ruling, although yet to be uploaded on the SC website, had two dissents from Associate Justices Marvic Leonen and Samuel Gaerlan.

Associate Justice Ramon Paul Hernando

Hernando may be the fifth most senior justice of the SC, after Peralta retires, but he is also the youngest. Should Duterte pick him as chief justice, he could sit as the country’s top judge for the next 15 years.

Hernando is a Bedan law graduate, like the president. He earned his pre-law degree from the University of Santo Tomas, while he spent his earlier learning years in Tuguegarao where he was born.

He worked for at least two former SC justices: As confidential assistant in the office of then-Justice Edgardo Paras in 1991. He also worked in the office of former SC Justice Florenz Regalado from 1992-1998.

Hernando become a state prosecutor in 1998 until 2003 then a trial cour judge in Laguna, and then Quezon City. On February 16, 2010, he become an appeals court judge at the age of 43.

He has also been teaching in several law schools since 1992, while he sat as Bar Examiner for Commercial Law in 2009, 2011 and 2016 Bar exams.

Hernando penned the decision that declared the late Chief Justice Renato Corona, who was impeached in 2012, entitled to retirement benefits and other allowances.

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