Caguioa appointed to Supreme Court
President Benigno Aquino III has appointed to the Supreme Court his close friend, Justice Secretary Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa, who became his final appointee to the high tribunal before stepping down next June.
Mr. Aquino chose Caguioa, a 25-year litigation veteran, to take the vacancy left after Associate Justice Martin Villarama Jr. opted for early retirement last Jan. 16, reportedly for health reasons.
Caguioa, 56, who has served barely three months as justice secretary, was handpicked from a short list of five nominees. He will serve on the high court until he reaches the mandatory retirement age of 70 on Sept. 30, 2029, giving him 13 years on the tribunal.
Grade school classmate
The appointment was announced by Malacañang at 5.30 p.m. Friday. There was no immediate word if Caguioa, who was a classmate of Mr. Aquino at Ateneo de Manila from grade school to college, had taken his oath before the President.
“Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. has transmitted the appointment letter dated 22 January 2016 to Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno,” said the brief Palace statement.
“I am happy that we are once again a complete court as there is a lot of work to be done, which I expect Justice Caguioa to actively take part in,” Sereno said in a statement welcoming Caguioa to the court.
Caguioa, who was chief presidential legal counsel before becoming justice secretary, is Mr. Aquino’s sixth and last appointee to the high tribunal, joining Sereno and Associate Justices Bienvenido Reyes, Estela Perlas-Bernabe, Marvic Leonen and Francis Jardeleza.
The rest of the 15-member court are appointees of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Mr. Aquino appointed Justice Undersecretary and spokesperson Emmanuel Caparas as acting justice secretary. Caparas is also an Ateneo classmate of the President and Caguioa.
During the Judicial and Bar Council’s public interview, Caguioa said that despite having worked in the executive branch, his impartiality and probity as a judge would not be compromised by utang na loob (debt of gratitude).
“My father was a judge for 12 years. I know exactly how a judge thinks. I will wear an altogether different [cap], as judge,” said Caguioa, son of the late Court of Appeals Justice Eduardo Caguioa.
“There is no bias or inclination or anything in the face of whatever facts are presented to me,” he told the JBC, when asked if he would serve the interest of the administration if appointed.
JBC members also confronted Caguioa with a question that appeared to test his loyalty: Should President Aquino be held liable for the Disbursement Acceleration Program that the high court had declared unconstitutional?
Caguioa, who was the President’s chief legal counsel when the case against the DAP came before the Supreme Court, said: “I don’t believe he should be charged as he was not among the program’s authors.”
Caguioa further said the President merely exercised his discretion to augment savings, which is “completely allowable.”
The high court struck down the stimulus fund as unconstitutional in July 2014, but following a government appeal, upheld the act of reallocating unused funds to specific projects so long as they fell under general headings in the approved national budget.
Among top 3
Caguioa was among the top 3 on the JBC short list, getting the nod of all seven JBC members. The two others were Presiding Justice Andres Reyes and Associate Justice Jose Reyes of the Court of Appeals.
Caguioa replaced Justice Secretary Leila de Lima last Oct. 12, after she stepped down to pursue her senatorial bid.
While serving at the Department of Justice (DOJ), Caguioa handled the tanim bala (bullet-planting) controversy at Ninoy Aquino International Airport, appointing for the first time duty prosecutors at Manila’s international air terminals.
It was also during his time that the Bureau of Immigration, an agency under the DOJ, was rocked by controversy over the alleged involvement of its chief in illegal activities. President Aquino replaced Immigration Commissioner Siegfred Mison earlier this month.
The DOJ also saw the departure of several officials during Caguioa’s three months there, most notably Undersecretary Jose Justiniano, said to be among those being considered for the justice portfolio before De Lima’s departure.
Caguioa earned an economics degree, with an honorable mention, from Ateneo de Manila University in 1981, and graduated second honors at Ateneo Law School in 1985. He placed 15th in the 1986 bar exams.
He was in private practice for many years before he joined the government, founding in 2007 the Caguioa and Gatmaytan law firm. The firm specializes in litigation, arbitration and corporate and commercial cases, according to its website.
He was previously a partner at Sycip, Salazar, Hernandez and Gatmaytan from 1985 to 1987, and from 1988 to January 2007.
Caguioa also taught law at the University of Santo Tomas, Ateneo and San Sebastian College.
The firm he cofounded changed its name to Gatmaytan Yap Patacsil Gutierrez & Protacio when Caguioa was appointed chief presidential legal counsel in January 2013, replacing Eduardo de Mesa who resigned in December 2012.
Caguioa’s appointment was initially protested, primarily because of his close ties to the President, which was seen to involve a conflict-of-interest situation.
In his opposition letter, lawyer Ernesto Francisco Jr. claimed that Caguioa’s law firm had lawyered for Narra Nickel Mining and Development Corp., Tesoro Mining and Development and McArthur Mining Inc., whose financial and technical assistance agreements issued in the homestretch of the Arroyo administration were revoked by the Office of the President. With reports from Nikko Dizon and Inquirer Research
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