MANILA, Philippines -- Labor Secretary Arturo Brion took his oath Monday as the 15th justice of the Supreme Court.
Brion said he would be independent and would honor the oath of office he took before Chief Justice Reynato Puno at the Supreme Court before noon Monday, amid concerns about the President Macapagal-Arroyo choosing a Cabinet member to join the high court.
Brion's appointment came less than a month after the retirement of Justice Angelina Sandoval Gutierrez on February 27. Arroyo had 90 days to fill in the vacancy.
Puno was asked if Brion would be allowed to vote on the Neri petition, but the Chief Justice told reporters to ask the newest magistrate of the tribunal.
Only the justices who had participated in the deliberations on a case could vote on it, the high court's spokesperson said earlier.
"I don't think [independence] will be an issue because while I was in the executive...my attention was fully focused on the executive. This time around, I'm with the judiciary and my attention, everything I've got, will be fully focused on the judiciary," Brion said.
He said Arroyo never gave him any instructions on his appointment to the tribunal and only congratulated him when she passed by him Monday at the San Miguel church where the Cabinet members were having a Lenten retreat.
"Art, congratulations. You have a new job," he quoted Arroyo as telling him.
He said he was told of his appointment to the high court Monday morning by Undersecretary Edwin Enrile of the Office of the President, who asked him to go to the Supreme Court office in Manila.
But as early as Sunday, he was already told to expect something, he said.
Upon his arrival at the high court's office, he said Puno gave him his appointment papers. .
A source said Brion's appointment papers were signed over the weekend.
Brion also said he only wanted to do his job at the high court in the same manner that he tackled his duties at the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE). He said figures will show that when he was at the department's helm, there was minimal number of strikes and maximum employment and remittances.
He recommended Marianito Roque of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) and Labor Undersecretary Romeo Lagman to take over his DoLE post in an acting capacity.
Either of them would be "very good replacements," he added.
Aside from Puno, 10 other justices were present at his oath-taking and welcomed him with applause. They are Justices Leonardo Quisumbing, Presbitero Velasco, Dante Tinga, Renato Corona, Eduardo Antonio Nachura, Adolf Azcuna, Teresita De Castro, Ruben Reyes, Conchita Carpio Morales and Antonio Carpio.
Brion, 61, became DoLE secretary in July 2006. Before that, he was a justice at the Court of Appeals for three years.
He also used to be an undersecretary for the labor and foreign affairs departments, as well as consultant for the Civil Service Commission. He was also a member of the Philippine National Assembly.
He was a senior partner at the Siguion Reyna, Montecillo & Ongsiako Law Offices, and a senior partner at the Natividad, Delos Reyes, Maambong & Brion office.
Brion topped the bar examinations in 1974 with a grade of 91.65 percent and got his law degree from the Ateneo de Manila University where he graduated cum laude and class valedictorian.
He got his undergraduate degree in Mathematics at the San Pablo Colleges.
He is married to Antonietta Articona, with whom he has two children, Antonella and Arturo Jr.