'Move on,' De Castro tells critics on busy 1st day as Chief Justice

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The newly appointed Chief Justice reveals what she wants the De Castro court to be like.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 28) — Newly appointed Chief Justice Teresita Leonardo de Castro is not letting anything disrupt her 40-day stint as the country's top judge.

During her first press conference as chief magistrate on Tuesday, De Castro urged all Filipinos, including critics, to "move on" from the historic ouster of her predecessor, Maria Lourdes Sereno. 

"I think we should all move on and work together for the good of our judiciary. Let's put the past behind us, but of course we should not forget the lessons that we learned," De Castro said when asked about her message to her detractors.

De Castro was among the eight justices who voted to unseat Sereno on May 11 and permanently remove her from office on June 19, for alleged failure to file complete statements of assets, liabilities, and net worth.

Critics say President Rodrigo Duterte gave De Castro the chief justice post as a reward for her role in Sereno's ouster, a claim both Duterte and De Castro denied.

"I don't think that one incident like you mentioned would have been enough for me to be elevated to the highest position in the judiciary," De Castro said.

Duterte on Monday said he chose De Castro since she was the most senior among the three justices in the shortlist. The other two were Associate Justices Diosdado Peralta and Lucas Bersamin.

Malacañang also repeatedly denied being behind moves to oust Sereno, even as the President declared himself an enemy of the former chief justice when she insisted on his involvement.

De Castro also said she has no time for distractions, referring to the impeachment complaint filed against her and other justices for voting against Sereno.

"I have no time to think about it," she said when asked about the impeachment complaint which will be tackled by the House Committee on Justice next week. "I have very few weeks to work here in court. I don't want it to be disrupted by anything else," she added.

De Castro is set to retire on October 8 upon reaching the mandatory retirement age of 70, making her the country's shortest-serving Chief Justice.

'Look at my track record'

De Castro urged her critics to instead look at what she has done for the government for the past 45 years.

"People should just look at my track record, my long service in the judiciary," De Castro said.

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

She began her government service as a law clerk at the Supreme Court in 1973 after earning her law degree at the University of the Philippines in 1972. She 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.

'I haven't met the President'

On her first day at work as Chief Justice, De Castro led the oral arguments on a petition against Duterte's decision to pull the country out of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

De Castro vowed to be independent in all her decisions as chief magistrate, even in cases involving the one who appointed her to the post.

She added she believes Duterte will not do anything to "impair the independence of the judiciary."

She also stressed that she never asked any favors from Duterte. 

"I'd like to inform everyone that up to this time, I have not met the President, I have not seen him, I have not approached him, whether directly or through anybody, so he appointed me without knowing me personally," De Castro said.

The De Castro court

De Castro stressed that her legacy as Supreme Court justice will not be determined by her short term as Chief Justice.

"Even when the position of Chief [Justice] was beyond my imagination, I was already working on many projects which I want to be done when I retire not as Chief Justice, but as Associate Justice," she said.

"I want the De Castro court to be remembered as the court which restored collegiality in the Supreme Court," she added.

She thanked colleagues and supporters for a warm welcome as she took her oath Tuesday morning.

"I'm happy that I have the support of all of my colleagues. They were all present during my first day at work," she said.

There were flowers and balloons at the High Court to congratulate De Castro for her promotion. But outside the court's building in Manila, there were also protesters who chanted "Ang cheap, ang cheap, ang cheap ng justice ninyo (Your justice is cheap)."

 

CNN Philippines' Anjo Alimario contributed to this report.