Everyday History
Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta
Articles Supreme Court of the Philippines

Profile: New SC Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta

President Duterte appointed yesterday Supreme Court Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta as the 26th Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

Peralta was among the three that the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) shortlisted as candidates to head the High Court, the other two being Supreme Court Associate Justices Estela Perlas-Bernabe and Andres Reyes, Jr.

The Ilocano magistrate from Laoag City is the most experienced among the three candidates, with two and half decades of judicial experience. Peralta will serve until March 27, 2022 when he reaches the mandatory retirement age of 70.

The Supreme Court website provides ample information into Peralta’s early years as a prosecutor and his career as a judge and magistrate.

According to the website, Peralta, who graduated from the Colegio de San Juan de Letran in 1974 with a degree in economics, initially worked as a corporate analyst, and later, as a corporate manager while studying to become a lawyer at the University of Santo Tomas, where he graduated in 1979. He passed the Bar Examination the following year, although he wasn’t among the topnotchers.

He worked for Cosmos Bottling Corporation (CBC), the first Filipino softdrink manufacturer and maker of Pop Cola, Sarsi and Cheers, and managed several subsidiary businesses of the company until 1987 when he accepted the position to become the Third Assistant City Fiscal in his hometown Laoag.

In 1988, he moved to Manila where he was appointed to the City Prosecutor’s Office. He was later assigned as Assistant Chief of the Investigation Division of the same office.

Peralta’s career as a judge began in September 1944 when he was appointed presiding justice of Branch 95 of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court (RTC). At the time, the branch was a special criminal court that specialized on heinous crimes and drug cases.

As RTC judge, one of the controversial cases that Peralta decided on was the 1999 murder case People vs. Fallorina. Peralta convicted PO3 Ferdinand Fallorina in the killing of 11-year-old Vincent Jorojoro, Jr. on Sept. 26, 1998, who was flying a kite on the roof of their house. He meted the death penalty on Fallorina as punishment after hearing the testimonies of six witnesses and concluding the trial in just three months.

Then Supreme Court Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta testifies at House of Representatives on Jan. 15, 2018 during the hearing on the probable cause for the impeachment of former Supreme Court Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno. Photo by Michael Varcas, The Philippine STAR

The case has since been depicted in the 1999 Gil Portes film Saranggola starring Ricky Davao and Lester Llansang.

That same year, he received two awards for his speedy disposition of cases: a commendation from the Integrated Bar of the Philippines – Quezon City chapter and the first Annual Pillars of the Criminal Justice System Award from the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC).

Another historic case that Peralta decided was the 2001 plunder case People vs. Manalili. The case was filed against Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) cashier Dominga Manalili, who diverted public funds amounting to P260 million to his personal bank accounts in 1996.

Peralta convicted Manalili of plunder a few months before former president Joseph Estrada himself faced impeachment for alleged plunder, making her the first person to be convicted of plunder in the country.

His handling of the Manalili case earned Peralta an appointment as associate justice in the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan in 2002. He became part of the court’s Special Division that tried and convicted Estrada of plunder in 2007.

He also proposed the adoption of statements and affidavits as direct testimony of witnesses, which the anti-graft court adopted, enabling it to cut short the process of witness presentation and testimony and decide on the most number of cases based on merit.

While at the Sandiganbayan, Peralta was an advocate of the computerization of case management information, even before the anti-graft court embarked on digitization. It enabled him to speedily and efficiently decide on the numerous cases he handled.

When President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo appointed Peralta as the 162nd Associate Justice of the Supreme Court in January 2009, this innovation was later incorporated in the 2017 Revised Guidelines For Continuous Trial Of Criminal Cases, which Peralta was the main architect. Likewise, Peralta also drafted the new SC rule allowing inmates to submit their testimonies through teleconferencing, reducing the need for their presentation in court.

As Supreme Court Associate Justice, Peralta wrote a number of controversial ponencias, the most controversial of which is the Supreme Court decision to bury former dictator Ferdinand Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani (LNMB) on Nov. 8, 2016.

During last year’s JBC search for the next Chief Justice, Peralta, who was interviewed by the council as one of the candidates, said that his ponencia was necessary so that the country can move on from the past and that he believed the decision has united the country.

The Supreme Court decision to bury the late dictator at the LNMB resulted in mass protests from anti-Marcos groups and Martial Law human rights abuse victims. The decision was arrived at despite a National Historical Commission of the Philippines study questioning Marcos’ wartime service record that made him eligible for burial at the LNMB.

Another controversial ponencia was for the 2017 drug case Estipona v. Lobrigo, which arrested drug suspect Salvador Estipona filed against Legazpi City RTC Branch 3 judge Frank Lobrigo after the latter rejected the former’s move to file a plea bargain.

In his decision, Peralta stated the Lobrigo’s rejection of Estipona’s motion to file a plea bargain on the basis of Sec. 23 of the Republic Act No. 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 was a violation of the equal protection of the law clause in the 1987 Constitution. Sec. 23 of RA 9165 states that any person charged any provision of the law shall not be allowed to avail of the plea bargaining provision.

Peralta’s decision led the Supreme Court in 2018 to adopt new plea-bargaining framework on drug cases and a circular to all trial courts to implement the framework.

Incoming Supreme Court Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta and outgoing Supreme Court Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio during Carpio’s final flag-raising ceremony at the Supreme Court on Monday, Oct. 21, 2019. Carpio will retire on Oct. 26. Photo by Edd Gumban, The Philippine STAR

Aside from his ponencias, Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta is also controversial for his votes in several high-profile cases in recent years.

During the Aquino III administration, Peralta voted in favor of declaring the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) and three acts under the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) as unconstitutional.

When Grace Poe, daughter of the late actor Fernando Poe, Jr. ran for a Senate seat in 2013, and later, as president in 2016, Peralta was among the SC justices who concurred that Poe is a natural-born citizen of the Philippines.

Likewise, when the Aquino III filed plunder charges against former president and former Pampanga Second District Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in relation to the P336-million Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) scam, Peralta was one of the SC justice who voted to acquit Arroyo in July 2016. It was the same month that President Duterte, an ally of Arroyo, took office. Arroyo later thanked Duterte for ‘creating a climate’ that led to her acquittal.

Aside from Arroyo’s acquittal, Peralta also voted in favor of granting bail for another Duterte ally, former senator Juan Ponce Enrile, in 2015. The former Senate president was arrested in 2014 following charges of plunder in relation to the PDAF scam.

Peralta also voted to affirm the legality of the arrest of staunch Duterte critic Sen. Leila De Lima in 2017 in relation to her alleged involvement in the drug trade.

In the same year, when President Duterte placed Mindanao under a state of martial law following the Siege of Marawi City by Islamic extremists, Peralta was among those who voted to affirm the constitutionality of the declaration. He also voted in favor of extending Martial Law in Mindanao twice.

Last year, when Solicitor General Jose Calida filed a quo warranto petition to invalidate Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno’s appointment as Supreme Court Associate Justice in 2012, Peralta was among the justices who voted to grant the petition, leading to Sereno’s ouster from the High Tribunal.

This year, Peralta voted in favor of two motions: First, the order to release all legal documents in relation to the Duterte administration’s controversial War on Drugs, and second, the recent decision of the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET) to deny the petition to dismiss Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr. electoral protest against Vice President Leni Robredo.

Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta replaces former Supreme Court Chief Justice Lucas Bersamin, who retired last week. Prior to his selection, Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio served as acting chief of the High Tribunal. Carpio will retire on Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019.

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