Written By: Atty. Jojo Lacanilao
Her public persona is one of a fighter for justice, fairness and good governance. In this ecosystem, we who know her personally would address her as Chief. She is a leader who reached the pinnacle of success at a relatively young age, which she had done so through equal gumption and commitment to the values she shares with many Filipinos.
She is bold to threats and political pressures and determined to make things right around her. One time, as a young lawyer, she stayed up all night in a police station to ensure that a client’s rights were protected under police custody.
The Chief’s audacity to defend the independence of the judiciary had placed her in the cross-hairs of a bumbling tyrant. And yet she never blinked and stood guard against the assaults on democracy and an independent judiciary.
But the Chief is more than a mere persona. She has substance in spades! The Chief earned her way from the public schools of Quezon City to a college scholarship at the Ateneo De Manila. I was in Ateneo a year ahead of her (mid-70s) and Loyola Heights had just opened its doors to female students—who were then called “coeds.” I cringe at recalling such reference to female classmates as if opening up the elite university to them was an undeserved concession. But I digress. It’s just facetious to think that the Chief who would confront the toughest challenges was ever once an innocuous “coed.” The things that men come up with to maintain their sense of privilege!
Well, coed or not, the Chief went on to the U.P. College of law where she was ahead of me by two years. Her grit and determination came to the fore again as she topped her class of 1984 with the honorific Cum Laude under her belt. That’s a cracking achievement, if you ask me. She then went on to earn her Master of Laws in the early 90s from the University of Michigan Law School.
True to character and her commitment to public service, she became faculty for many years of the U.P. College of Law after giving up a promising career in a Makati law firm.
But what the public doesn’t see much is her inner core anchored on sincere faith in God and genuine care for people. Her public sturdiness is blended with a real humanity and a sense of God’s sovereignty in her life. In this milieu, I call her Meilou (her nickname to friends). When she enters the realm of human relationships and conditions, she checks her outer crustiness at the door and becomes one of us.
Meilou’s faith defines her. It guides her to live by the values of excellence, fairness, integrity, humility, and undying love for her family.
Meilou’s public service culminated in becoming the first woman to serve as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. If not the youngest she would have been one of the youngest Chief Justices ever to take the prestigious and powerful helm.
She led the court in many innovations and reforms that continue to this day. My favorite one is the initiative on continuous trial in criminal cases, which cut the length of judicial trials by a chunk. When the initiative was introduced in 2012 average trial lasted for six years. After a few years the length of trial plummeted to about four years or less now.
Meilou’s rise to the top and her achievements in the judiciary didn’t sit well with critics in and out of the court. She was removed as Chief Justice in May 2018, by a Supreme Court decision that a dissenting Justice called a “legal abomination.” These two words are the historical summary of the ouster of Meilou as Chief Justice.
Her critics tried to cancel her career in the judiciary, but never will they succeed. Republic vs. Sereno, the Supreme Court decision that removed her as Chief Justice, will be rightfully reversed in due time when enough of us decides to stand against the tyranny of today and not allow it to enslave us anymore.
But to our great benefit one can never leave a good woman down. Meilou, still very much the Chief in our eyes, continues her post-judiciary advocacy for truth and democracy despite the many odds.
What a woman!
𝐴𝑡𝑡𝑦. 𝐽𝑜𝑗𝑜 𝐿𝑎𝑐𝑎𝑛𝑖𝑙𝑎𝑜, 𝑓𝑜𝑟𝑚𝑒𝑟𝑙𝑦 𝑎 𝑐𝑎𝑟𝑒𝑒𝑟 𝑑𝑖𝑝𝑙𝑜𝑚𝑎𝑡, 𝑖𝑠 𝑐𝑢𝑟𝑟𝑒𝑛𝑡𝑙𝑦 𝑎 𝑙𝑒𝑔𝑎𝑙 𝑝𝑟𝑎𝑐𝑡𝑖𝑡𝑖𝑜𝑛𝑒𝑟. 𝐻𝑒 𝑠𝑒𝑟𝑣𝑒𝑑 𝑎𝑠 𝐶𝐽 𝑆𝑒𝑟𝑒𝑛𝑜’𝑠 𝑠𝑝𝑜𝑘𝑒𝑠𝑝𝑒𝑟𝑠𝑜𝑛 𝑑𝑢𝑟𝑖𝑛𝑔 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑙𝑎𝑡𝑡𝑒𝑟’𝑠 𝑖𝑚𝑝𝑒𝑎𝑐ℎ𝑚𝑒𝑛𝑡.