Leonen named new SC associate justice

(UPDATE) Chief government peace panel negotiator and former University of the Philippines Law Dean Marvic Leonen has been named Supreme Court Associate Justice, the presidential spokesman confirmed Wednesday.

"This afternoon, the President has appointed Marvic Mario Victor F. Leonen as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court after having received the short list from the Judicial and Bar Council and interviewing each nominee," Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said in a statement.

The 49-year-old Leonen is the youngest magistrate to be appointed to the high tribunal, beating the record earlier set by now Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.

Leonen will fill the position vacated by Sereno, who replaced impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona at the helm of the high court.

"President Aquino views his [Leonen's] appointment as a contribution to his vision of an empowered, independent, and reformist Judiciary," Lacierda noted.

With Leonen's appointment, four Aquino appointees now sit in the Supreme Court, the others being Sereno and Associate Justices Bienvenido Reyes and Estela Perlas-Bernabe.

Leonen is expected to serve in the Supreme Court for 21 years or until he reaches the mandatory retirement age of 70.

Lacierda said the President's confidence in Leonen for his work in the government-MILF negotiations gave him an edge over other candidates for associate justice.

"Dean Leonen had contributed significantly to the cause of a just, dignified, and lasting peace with our Muslim brothers and sisters while keeping with the spirit and letter of the Constitution," Lacierda said.

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Leonen is highly credited for brokering a recently struck peace framework agreement which rekindled hopes of ending the decades-long Muslim rebellion in Mindanao.

He was chosen associate justice from a list of seven nominees to the post submitted to the President by the JBC.

Leonen was the last nominee to be interviewed, having been in Malaysia for the latest round of peace talks with the MILF.

The President called Leonen while he was on the way to UP after the interview to personally convey his decision to appoint him, Lacierda said.

Prior to serving in the peace panel, Leonen was dean of the UP College of Law, where he had been a professor since 1989.

Meanwhile, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Deles hailed Leonen's appointment as "a major gain in our continuing journey for peace and justice."

"The Supreme Court gains a member with a deep understanding of the Constitution and our nation's historic journey to peace," Deles said.

This, as she expressed confidence that the development will not negatively impact the ongoing peace process.

"[N]egotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front is on track and moving towards the completion of the Comprehensive Agreement by the end of the year," Deles said.

Her office and the panel, she said, are "ready to ensure the necessary leadership for the Panel to successfully complete its tasks."

A list of recommendations for Leonen's replacement will be submitted to the President "shortly," Deles said.

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