De Castro is new Chief Justice until October

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 25) — Teresita Leonardo de Castro is the new Chief Justice – but not for long.

President Rodrigo Duterte has chosen her to be the country's next top judge despite her looming retirement in October.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, a member of the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) which screened the applicants for chief justice, said De Castro's appointment will be formalized on Tuesday.

"I have been informed that the President's choice has been publicly announced by (Special Assistant to the President) Bong Go and that the formal appointment will be released by (Executive Secretary Salvador) Medialdea on Tuesday," Guevarra said.

Go in a text message confirmed, "Si De Castro na new CJ, siya pinili ni PRRD (De Castro is the new chief justice. She was chosen by the President)."

De Castro will head the Supreme Court, a post that was vacated after Maria Lourdes Sereno's historic ouster. De Castro was among the eight justices who voted to unseat Sereno, one of the youngest chief magistrates ever appointed.

Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio has since taken over the post as the most senior associate justice. Since he turned down any nomination for the post, De Castro is next in the seniority line.

The 69-year-old De Castro,however, is set to be the shortest-serving Chief Justice as she is set to serve the post for only more than a month. She will retire on October 8 upon reaching the mandatory retirement age of 70.

Still, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque on Saturday said De Castro is the best choice.

"Bravo! Best choice for CJ! Proven competence, known nationalist and a streak of being a judicial activist," Roque said in a statement.

Duterte chose De Castro from a shortlist of three nominees that was submitted to him on Friday. The other two were Associate Justices Diosdado Peralta and Lucas Bersamin.

Opposition lawmakers wanted the JBC to withdraw its shortlist and disqualify all three from the chief justice race because of impeachment complaints filed against them on Thursday. But Guevarra said these should have no effect since the raps were not yet acted upon by the House Committee on Justice, which handles cases against impeachable officials.

All three voted to unseat Sereno on May 11, and junked her appeal on June 19, permanently removing her from office.

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Two-month term

While Malacañang praised De Castro's appointment, critics slammed Duterte's decision, considering the justice's October retirement and her alleged bias in voting for Sereno's ouster.

"Ang pagtatalaga ni Duterte kay Teresita De Castro bilang Punong Mahistrado ay maliwanag na nagpapakita ng bayad-utang, kawalan ng delicadeza at kagarapalan sa gobyernong ito," Rep. Gary Alejano, one of the solons who filed the impeachment complaints, said in a statement.

Sen. Kiko Pangilinan, leader of opposition Liberal Party, also questioned De Castro's short term.

"Why appoint someone who will only sit as Chief Justice for less than two months? What public purpose does it serve? What public value does it create? The appointment leaves much to be desired," Pangilinan said in another statement.

During the JBC's public interview of applicants on August 16, De Castro bared plans for her short stint if appointed Chief Justice.

"It's not as if I will only start today. I have been working on judicial reform projects since 2009. If I'm appointed Chief Justice, all I need to do is revive these projects, together with the case management. All we need to do is update," she said.

Senator Richard Gordon, meanwhile, is convinced De Castro would do a great job, considering her almost five-decade government service.

"She will do very well with her experience as a legal luninary for 45 years. Highly bright, competent and a woman of the law," Gordon said.

Who is De Castro?

De Castro has been serving the government for 45 years. She began as a law clerk at the Supreme Court in 1973 after earning her law degree at the University of the Philippines in 1972.

She also served as state counsel at the Department of Justice in 1978, assistant chief state counsel in 1997, associate justice of the Sandiganbayan in the same year, and presiding justice of the anti-graft court in 2004.

Then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo appointed De Castro associate justice in 2007.

De Castro made headlines in April after trading barbs with Sereno during the oral arguments on the quo warranto petition seeking to unseat the latter. Known as the ousted chief justice's nemesis, De Castro had said she does not let emotions get in the way of her work, without admitting her rumored rivalry with the younger justice.

CNN Philippines' Anjo Alimario contributed to this report.