‪Ex-SC justice Cuevas dies

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Monday, February 10, 2014

MANILA (3rd Update) -- Former Supreme Court Justice Serafin Cuevas, whose sharp argumentation skills impressed lawmakers and the public in the impeachment trial of then Chief Justice Renato Corona in 2012, died on Sunday night at age 85.

SC spokesperson Theodore Te confirmed Cuevas' passing on Monday. Te did not state the cause of his death as the Philippine flag was flown at half-mast at the SC quadrangle in respect to the Court's 106th associate justice.

Cuevas was with the SC from June 1, 1984 to April 16, 1986. He was also a magistrate of the Intermediate Appellate Court and justice secretary to former President Joseph Estrada from 1998 to 2000.

He defended Estrada in his impeachment trial in 2001 and then Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, who never faced her accusers at the Senate after resigning in April 2011.

Justice Serafin Cuevas
MANILA. Defense lead counsel Justice Serafin Cuevas (right) was chatting with lead prosecutor Neil Tupas Jr. before the start of the 43rd day of the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona on May 28, 2012. (Senate pool photo)

Despite his advanced age, Cuevas took the job as Corona's lead counsel two years ago. He argued for Corona's innocence over charges of betrayal of public trust for concealing cash deposits with ease, prompting some netizens to call him a "rock star."

In a statement, Corona said “Ka Apin” acted like a father to him during the four-month trial as he was encouraged to fight for what was right and just.

“Sa kabila ng lungkot sa pagpanaw niya, may kagalakan din na naghahari sa aking puso at damdamin na siya'y nasa piling na ng ating Mahal na Panginoon na nagbigay sa amin ng pagkakataong makipaglaban para sa aming mga adhikain at paniniwala, sa rule of law at pantay-pantay na kapangyarihan ng tatlong sangay ng gobyerno,” he said.

Lawyer Tranquil Salvador III, a member of Corona's defense team, said he will remember the late magistrate as a "true litigator" and consensus builder.

"He has mastery of the rules of court, more particularly the evidence and allowable objections. In formulating his theory, he sees to it that it is within the boundaries of the law and jurisprudence. It was an honor to work with him," he told Sun.Star.

Senator Juan Edgardo Angara, one of the spokespersons for the prosecution panel in the impeachment trial of Corona, said Cuevas will be remembered for being a "very formidable" defense counsel.

"Hardly anything escaped his attention. We would often remark he was like a wall -- anything you threw his way came back to you. He was confident and thorough in his preparation, often citing Supreme Court cases from memory," Angara said.

"Despite the many days of hard arguments, he also always had a ready smile for his opposing counsels after trial work was done. He will be remembered with a mix of respect, fondness and admiration," he added.

Malacañang also mourned the death of Cuevas even if he represented Corona, whose ouster was backed by President Benigno Aquino III.

“We extend our condolences to the family of the late Justice Serafin Cuevas who dedicated a good portion of his life and career to public service,” said Presidential Communications and Operations Office (PCOO) Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr.

Cuevas obtained his law degree from the University of the Philippines in 1952. He taught law at UP and Far Eastern University (FEU).

“His classes in remedial law were master classes and every student who sat through his classes, regardless of the grade they got, would have one conclusion: he was a brilliant teacher,” recalled Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, who had a 20-year teaching stint at the UP College of Law.

She described Cuevas an “erudite gentleman of the old school,” who prefers the legal vocabulary to the “often crude lingo of contemporary society.”

“Yet, he made a mark not only on students of my generation but, as the many messages of condolence from a much younger generation flood into social media sites would show, also on students of this generation. He had that certain quality of character that transcended generations,” said Sereno.

Cuevas' remains will lie in state at the Sanctuarium along Araneta Avenue in Quezon City. Visitors can start paying their respects only starting 12 noon of Tuesday. Interment will be at the family mausoleum on Friday, the SC said. (Sunnex)

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