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The new Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Diosdado Peralta

Peralta is new Chief Justice

PRESIDENT Duterte has appointed Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta as the new Chief Justice. Peralta will replace Chief Justice Lucas Bersamin.

Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea yesterday confirmed that Duterte has chosen Peralta to lead the Supreme Court following Bersamin’s retirement.

“Yes,” Medialdea said, when asked to confirm Peralta’s appointment as the country’s new top magistrate.

Bersamin reached the compulsory retirement age of 70 this Oct. 18.

The 1987 Constitution mandates the President to appoint a new top magistrate within 90 days from vacancy.

Medialdea said the President signed Peralta’s appointment paper yesterday, Oct. 23.

Malacañang has yet to release a copy of the appointment paper at presstime.

Peralta is the most senior in terms of experience in the high tribunal.

Prior to his stint at the Supreme Court in January 2009, Peralta served as presiding judge of the Sandiganbayan.

He was also a presiding judge of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 95, and a prosecutor in Laoag City and in Manila.

He bested Associate Justices Estela Perlas-Bernabe and Andres Reyes Jr., the two other magistrates who made it to the shortlist for the country’s next Chief Justice endorsed by the Judicial and Bar Council.

Perlas-Bernabe was appointed to the Supreme Court by former president Benigno Aquino III in 2011 while Reyes got a seat at the high court in 2017.

During the public interview by the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) for nominees for Chief Justice, Peralta said his experience and track record were more than enough for him to land the judiciary’s top post.

He became emotional shortly after responding to JBC members’ perception that he is arrogant.

Despite not being a bar topnotcher or an honor student, Peralta told the Council: “I think I was able to compensate with the work that I had as a public prosecutor, as a judge, as an associate justice of the Sandiganbayan, as a presiding justice, associate justice of the Supreme Court, as a lecturer and chairman of several committees. I think they are more than enough to compensate with what they say that I do not deserve (to become chief justice).”

Peralta, at that time the most senior nominee, explained the rationale behind decisions he wrote, particularly on a ruling that stated that drug charges for minor amounts of narcotics may be pleaded down, and the controversial implementing rules of the Good Conduct and Time Allowance (GCTA) Law.

Peralta said the decision limits the possibility of entering a plea bargain to a lesser offense if the recovered narcotics are less or very minimal, adding that it does not apply to cases involving large volumes of drugs.

On the criticism that the ruling stymied the war on drugs, Peralta explained that the SC “came up with the framework on the plea bargaining after the consultation with the Department of Justice, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, and the policemen” on the possibility and coverage of plea bargaining in drug cases.

“The problem in our second level courts, your honor, is that there (are) 100,000 drug cases filed before the courts, and 70 percent of these cases involve Sec. 5 (of Republic Act 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002), which is the sale, delivery and transport of dangerous drugs. 90 percent of this 70 percent are sale of less than 1 gram of dangerous drugs or less than three sticks of marijuana so we all agreed that we can enter. Most of the cases are less than one, so we agreed on plea bargaining under Sec. 5 only when the subject matter is less than 1 gram and in marijuana, when it is less than 10 grams,” Peralta said in response to the question of JBC member and retired SC Associate Justice Noel Tijam on the matter.

“There is a perception that the ruling applies also when it involves one kilo or one-half kilo when it does not,” Peralta added.

He said being procedural in nature, his decision cannot be given a retroactive effect, unlike the decision in the GCTA law, which involves the computation of penalties for convicts, which under the Constitution must be given retroactive effect if favorable to the accused.

Peralta, also a law professor, said he would work for continued capability building for would-be judges, as well as law students.

In terms of administration, Peralta said he would eye the automation of court processes when possible, including working for the exclusion from the Salary Standardization Law of court employees to address the lack of competent personnel, such as court stenographers, who tend to leave court positions for better-paying employment in the private sector.

Peralta added that he is eyeing the streamlining of the court’s procurement processes by creating a permanent public bidding committee to replace the adhoc body composed of heads of the different sub-offices of the SC.

The ad hoc system, Peralta said, tends to become an added burden to the heads of offices. (PNA)

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