MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine president appointed the country's first female Supreme Court chief justice Friday and praised her ability to lead the court after her predecessor was removed for constitutional violations.
President Benigno Aquino III was confident Maria Lourdes Sereno will lead "in undertaking much-needed reforms" in the judiciary and "restore our people's confidence in the judicial system," presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said.
Sereno has been an associate justice on the 15-member tribunal since August 2010 and was formerly a law professor. Now 52, she will serve on the court until retirement at 70.
Former chief justice Renato Corona was impeached and convicted in May for not disclosing his $2.4 million bank accounts. Aquino had called Corona an obstacle in his anti-corruption campaign.
Sereno was one of the minority members of the court who voted in favor of the Aquino government's order to stop former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo from leaving the country allegedly to evade corruption charges.
Sereno was one of the eight nominees for chief justice submitted to Aquino by the Judicial and Bar Council. In an unprecedented move to show transparency in choosing the chief justice, the council conducted a televised interview of all 20 aspirants to the post and took questions from the public via Twitter and Facebook.
In a brief statement, Sereno assured her countrymen she would stand by her oath "faithfully to the end of my term."
"This is a serious job that calls for the support of the entire country for it to be successful and I understand the implications of this job," she said, adding she will announce her proposed judicial reforms soon.
Left-wing Rep. Rafael Mariano questioned her independence, saying she will be "politically indebted" to Aquino for her appointment. He challenged her to uphold a Supreme Court decision to break up the Aquino family's sugar estate and distribute the land to farmers.
Farmers' groups worry that her opinion of compensating the estate owners according to the 2006 fair-market value of the property rather than an earlier year would jack up the amortization payments of farmers who will get the land.
Roan Libarios, president of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, said they welcomed her appointment and he believes she will be independent.
"She is good for the call of the times for transparency and reforms in the judiciary," he said.