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Chief justice urged to be 'pro-people'

Lawyers' group says independence will mark true test of first woman to head the court

Chief justice urged to be 'pro-people'
New Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Punzalan Aranal-Sereno
ucanews.com reporter, Manila
Philippines

August 27, 2012

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Rights groups critical of the government have called on the country’s first woman to be appointed chief justice, Maria Lourdes Punzalan Aranal-Sereno, to initiate much-needed reforms and lead the Supreme Court towards what they called “pro-people” decisions. Following Sereno’s swearing in yesterday, which also made her the youngest ever chief justice in the Philippines at age 52, human rights lawyers and students from the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers issued a statement challenging Sereno to address myriad concerns over the court’s past performance. “The new chief justice should have, and maintain, the peoples’ trust,” the group said. “She has to face up to the immense challenge to be truly independent and impartial and prove that she is really her own woman.” Appointed to the Supreme Court by President Benigno Aquino in 2010, Sereno could hold the top position in the Philippines judiciary for 18 years until she reaches the mandatory retirement age of 70. Rep. Raymond Palatino of the opposition Youth Party said the “formidable task of reforming the judicial system tainted by political bickering and maneuvering” now rests in Sereno’s hands. A key test of her appointment, critics and supporters said, would be a hotly debated land reform process in which Aquino’s holdings in Hacienda Luisita, a sprawling 6-400-hectare sugar estate in Tarlac province, are expected to be redistributed under a program to give land, and land titles, to poor farmers. Earlier this year, Sereno voted against the majority in the Supreme Court in determining which land prices should be used to determine compensation for wealthy landowners. While the rest of the court voted to use 1989 prices, she argued that the much higher benchmark of 2006 should be used. Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo warned that the valuation dispute could further delay the land redistribution process. “I hope they will consider the common good, especially the poor and not just the rest,” he said. Joseph Canlas, head of the Farmer’s Alliance in Central Luzon, said Sereno’s appointment meant the Supreme Court had moved a step closer to a reversal on the decision to redistribute Hacienda Luisita, joining other farmers’ groups who called the new chief justice “undoubtedly pro-Aquino.” The president today told Sereno to remain resilient in the face of a host of expected challenges. “I am hoping that you weigh your verdict and decisions so that public confidence in the institution you lead would be restored,” Aquino said. Related reports Farmers march for land distribution Church wants land distribution intervention
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