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(Updated 5:27 p.m.) President Benigno Aquino III on Wednesday chose peace negotiator and former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Law Mario Victor "Marvic" F. Leonen as an associate justice of the Supreme Court, filling the seat vacated by Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.
The announcement was made by presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda.
Sereno herself replaced ex-CJ Renato Corona who was convicted by the Senate impeachment court in May. Leonen was previously nominated for the chief justice post but declined the nomination.
At 49, Leonen is the youngest Justice appointed to the Supreme Court since 1938.
The last to be interviewed of seven nominees, Leonen’s appointment came shortly after President Aquino sat down with him.
In the same statement read by Lacierda, he said Leonen’s appointment will be another of Aquino’s contributions to a recovering judiciary.
“President Aquino views his appointment as a contribution to his vision of an empowered, independent, and reformist Judiciary,” Lacierda read.
Laceirda added that Leonen’s appointment will go towards building “a Judiciary imbued with the highest standards of independence, probity and integrity.”
Aquino was supposed to interview Leonen Wednesday morning, but pushed the meeting back to the afternoon due to fatigue. 'Historic' framework agreement
Leonen headed the panel that negotiated the historic framework agreement signed by the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which will pave the way for the creation of a Bangsamoro political entity, to replace the “failed” Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
One of the biggest issues on Leonen’s appointment was whether the peace process will suffer should he leave his post as chief negotiator. However during his public interview last October 25, Leonen assured the panel that the peace process would not get derailed should he be appointed as associate justice.
"Each member of my panel is capable of chairing the [peace] panel," he said.
The palace has also repeatedly assured the public that even without Leonen, the peace panel negotiating with the MILF—which has yet to decide on matters including the policing of the Bangsamoro region, as well as wealth and power sharing, will not fall to the waysides.
“[The peace panel has] always been present in all the negotiations. Certainly, they are familiar with the details; they are familiar with the concerns, problems. And from the very start, the peace panel was onboard every step of the way,” Lacierda said previously.
Meanwhile, Lacierda also announced that Leonen’s replacement as head of the peace panel will come from the panel itself. “Sila kasi yung may alam talaga,” Lacierda noted.
For his part, MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal has said in a letter addressed to Leonen that the MILF “can work with any chairman of any gender” when it came to the continuing negotiations for the Bangsamoro political entity.
According to Lacierda, in the same letter, Iqbal expressed his endorsement of Leonen. President Aquino was furnished a copy of the letter prior to his one on one interview with Leonen. UP College of LawPrior to his appointment as chief negotiator in July 2010, Leonen used to teach law at the University of the Philippine College of Law and eventually served as its dean from 2008 to 2011.
He also served as the university's general counsel, and vice president for legal affairs. Leonen graduated magna cum laude from UP with a bachelor's degree in Economics in 1983. He also obtained his law degree from UP four years later.
Leonen was still UP Law dean when he and 36 other UP law professors were admonished by the Supreme Court last year for calling for the resignation of SC Associate Justice Mariano del Castillo over plagiarism issues.
Leonen himself was accused of plagiarizing the work of his long-time friend, collaborator and American scholar Owen Lynch, in an article published in the Journal of the Integrated Bar of the Philippine in 2004.
Leonen wanted to give up his deanship due to the accusation, but the UP Board of Regents did not allow him to resign.
Asked how he would manage to work with the other magistrates when they were the ones who admonished him last year, Leonen said: "You should respect those who disagree with you. I was able to negotiate with the MILF [anyway]."
Leonen also said if ever selected to be a member of the high court, he would be an associate justice who will be open to criticisms.
"If I become an associate justice, I want my decisions to be criticized. At least I know they are read. And also, so that I can respond and so that there will be a lively exchange of ideas," he said. 'A good choice, well-deserved' Judicial and Bar Council regular member for the academe Jose Mejia told GMA News Online that Leonen's appointment was "well-deserved," while human rights lawyer and Leonen's fellow UP law professor Harry Roque Jr said Leonen was a "great choice." Like Mejia and Roque, human rights lawyer Theodor Te, who is also a UP Law alumnus, also expressed delight over Leonen's appointment. "He deserved it and we deserve people like him on the Supreme Court. Marvic will be a great addition to the court. He brings to the SC a strong background in the academe and advocacy work and also roots in human rights," Te told GMA News Online. Te also stressed that Leonen has a "strong multi-disciplinary perspective which will be good for the court." Te admitted that Leonen was not his only favorite for the SC post. "I have mixed feelings though because outstanding lawyers Diokno and Lotilla were not able to make it," Te said. He added: "Hopefully, Aquino will find a way to tap them for help." The eight-member JBC earlier screened the 15 aspirants for the associate justice post, and eventually shortlisted Leonen and six other candidates. The six other shortlisted individuals Leonen edged out were: Court of Appeals Associate Justice Rosemari D. Carandang; former Department of Energy Secretary Raphael Perpetuo M. Lotilla; CA Presiding Justice Andres B. Reyes, Jr.; CA Associate Justice Jose C. Reyes, Jr.; CA Associate Justice Noel G. Tijam; and founding dean of the De La Salle University College of Law Jose Manuel Diokno. The public interviews for the aspirants were conducted on October 23 and 24, and led by Sereno as ex-officio chairperson. The JBC is constitutionally mandated to screen and vet nominees for vacant posts in the judiciary and the offices of the Ombudsman and Deputy Ombudsman. The JBC gave Aquino the shortlist for the associate justice post on November 7, and Aquino had until today (November 22) to appoint a new associate magistrate. —RSJ/KG/BM, GMA News