PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino III has ignored the top choice of the Judicial and Bar Council and appointed an assistant solicitor general over three judges and a Department of Justice undersecretary as associate justice of the Sandiganbayan.
“We’d like to announce that the President has appointed the Honorable Sarah Jane T. Fernandez as Associate Justice of the Sandiganbayan. The President signed the appointment last May 5, 2015,” Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte announced in a radio interview.
It was the first presidential appointment to be announced by the Palace after the public criticism that met the appointment of little-known lawyer Sheriff Abas to the Commission on Elections. He later turned out to be a nephew of Moro Islamic Liberation Front chief peace negotiator Mohagher Iqbal.
A lawyer since 1994, the 45-year-old Fernandez was chosen from a short-list that included Muntinlupa City Judge Philip A. Aguinaldo, Makati City Judge Mary Ann Manalac, Quezon City Judge Bernelito R. Fernandez and Justice Undersecretary Jose Justiniano.
Aguinaldo, a former Ilocos regional prosecutor and DOJ senior state prosecutor, was the favored candidate of the JBC with seven votes along with Corpus-Manalac, 2013 winner of the Chief Justice Cayetano Arellano Award for outstanding regional trial court judges.
The two Fernandezes each got six votes while Justiniano had five.
The new Sandiganbayan magistrate is the youngest sister of Dagupan City’s first female mayor Belen Fernandez, president of the CSI mall chain and one of the top ranking officials of the Liberal Party in vote-rich Pangasinan province.
The new magistrate graduated from the Ateneo de Manila University with a degree of B.S. Legal Management and was conferred a Juris Doctor degree by the Ateneo in 1994. She also holds a Master in Management from the Asian Institute of Management and is an alumna of the Divine Word Academy of Dagupan.
The new justice joined the Office of the Solicitor General in 1995 as an associate solicitor and, as a full-pledged solicitor in 2006, was part of the team which successfully defended the Reformed Value Added Tax (RVAT) cases before the Supreme Court.
Like her politician-sister, the new justice also joined public life during the administration of former President Gloria Arroyo, who appointed her assistant solicitor general in 2006.
Valte said Fernandez was chosen to replace Associate Justice Gregory Ong who was dismissed by the Supreme Court last year over his alleged links to businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles.
Interestingly, the family of the new justice is closely associated with former Dagupan Mayor Alipio Fernandez and has consistently opposed former Dagupan Mayor Benjamin Lim.
Valte said Fernandez’ appointment paper, dated May 8 and signed by Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr., has already been sent to Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.