Judiciary lauds oldest SC ex-justice who turns 93

Jerome Aning, Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines–The judiciary marks Monday the 93rd birthday of Ameurfina Melencio-Herrera, the oldest living retired Supreme Court justice and chancellor emeritus of the Philippine Judicial Academy (PhilJA).

“She is a role model in every way. She is an outstanding jurist. Justice Herrera nurtured and through teamwork and leadership caused PhilJA to become a leading judicial academy in Southeast Asia today,” PhilJA chancellor Adolfo Azcuna said in a statement.

Created by the Supreme Court in 1996, PhilJA serves as the professional training school for justices, judges, court personnel, lawyers and aspirants to judicial posts. Herrera was named its first chancellor and served for 13 years until she retired in 2009.

“As founding chancellor emeritus, Justice Herrera continues to guide PhilJA and is honored yearly through a trust funded program with a prestigious award in her name given to the most distinguished lecturer of the academy for the year,” Azcuna, Herrera’s successor, said.

Herrera is the second woman Supreme Court justice, following Cecilia Muñoz-Palma, the first woman justice who retired in 1978. President Ferdinand Marcos appointed Herrera to the Supreme Court the following year.

Reappointed by Cory

After the Edsa People Power revolution in February 1986, Herrera and the other Supreme Court justices, who were all appointed by Marcos, were asked by President Corazon Aquino to resign.

Herrera, however, was reappointed to the high court by Aquino two months later.

In the Supreme Court, Herrera chaired the computerization committee, the committee on the revision of the manual for clerks of court and the committee on the bar exams. She also served on the presidential committee on judicial reorganizations.

She retired from the Supreme Court in 1992.

Born on May 11, 1922, in Cabanatuan City, Nueva Ecija, Herrera is the daughter of Jose Melencio, a career diplomat, and Carmen Aguinaldo, a teacher, suffragist and daughter of General Emilio Aguinaldo.

She took up law at the University of the Philippines (UP), graduating valedictorian and cum laude in 1947. She topped the bar that year, the third woman to do so. Her score of 93.85 percent is still the highest grade of all women bar toppers.

After several years in private practice, Herrera in the 1960s was appointed a judge for trial courts in Quezon province and Manila. She was appointed to the Court of Appeals in 1971.

Herrera was married to the late Dr. Florentino Herrera Jr., chancellor of the University of the Philippines Manila. They have three children, Florentino III, Victoria Lourdes and Milagros Gloria.

Herrera has received numerous honors and awards through the years, one of the more recent the 2013 Rule of Law Award from the Chief Justice Claudio Teehankee Center for the Rule of Law, which cited her “for her dignified obedience to universal concepts of justice, pioneering spirit as the second woman appointed to the Supreme Court, her academic accomplishments and her developing the academy into the institution it is today.”

The center also lauded Herrera for “concretely further[ing] the cause of an independent bench and bar devoted to excellence and legal learning in the service of the greater good, all of which contribute toward a more stable and lasting rule of law.”

Speaking at a PhilJA workshop in 2001, Herrera said “members of the judiciary must ceaselessly advocate the rule of law because we desire what the preamble of our Constitution holds forth to be the fruit of adherence to law: a regime of justice, peace and love.”

Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago has described Herrera as “a paragon of moral ascendancy and academic excellence.”

“She deserves to be commended for all the patience and hard work she has put into serving the public in the legal arena. Her continuing dedication to the practice of law merits gratitude from the public sector and the Senate,” Santiago said in a Senate resolution she filed in 2008.

A child welfare advocate, Herrera is currently cochair of the Manila-based Child Protection Network Foundation Inc. She is also chair emeritus of the UP Law Alumni Foundation.

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