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Retired Supreme Court Associate Justice Cuevas dies at 85

FORMER Supreme Court Associate Justice Serafin Cuevas, one of the country’s brilliant minds in the legal community, has passed on, the High Tribunal has announced.

Cuevas, who served in the country’s highest court from June 1, 1984 to April 16, 1986, died on Sunday night at the age of 85. 

Cuevas obtained his law degree from the University of the Philippines in 1952. 

“Details of the wake will follow as soon as the Court is informed by the family,” Supreme Court Spokesman Theodore Te said in a statement. 

Cuevas had handled numerous high-profile cases, including the impeachment of former Chief Justice Renato Corona, where he served as the lead defense counsel.

He was also one of the defense lawyers of then-President Joseph Estrada in his impeachment case in 2001; before that, he served as Estrada’s justice secretary. 

Cuevas was also a lawyer of the Iglesia Ni Cristo (INC), aside from serving as chairman of the INC’s New Era University in Quezon City.

Six years after obtaining his law degree, he was appointed assistant fiscal of Manila in 1958; then as judge of the Court of First Instance in Cabanatuan City in 1965, then in Manila in 1967.

He was appointed chairman of the Supreme Court Committee that drafted the trial court manual prior to his appointment as associate justice of the Court of Appeals in 1978.

As the lead defense counsel of Corona in his impeachment trial, Corona gained the grudging respect of trial observers, as well as members of the prosecution team, for his performance in the proceedings as he sought to defend Corona from accusations that he failed to declare his assets in his Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net worth (SALN).

“Justice Serafin Cuevas was undoubtedly one of the most brilliant legal minds in the country. I appointed him DOJ [Department of Justice] secretary when I was President because he was a man of competence, probity and unquestionable integrity,” Estrada said in reaction to Cuevas’s death.

His full statement: “Nalulungkot ako sa pagpanaw ng namuno sa aking defense team, isang napakatanyag at napakagaling na mananangol, si Ka Apin, Justice Serafin Cuevas. Ang samahan namin ni Ka Apin noong kapanahunang iyon ay hindi pangkaraniwang samahan ng abogado at kliyente. Masasabi ko na higit pa dito; siya’y tumindig na ama sa akin. Binigyan niya ako ng tatag at lakas ng loob upang ipaglaban ang tama at makatarungan. Noong kami ay natalo na sa hatol ng Senado, hindi ko malilimutan ang binitiwan niyang salita sa akin: sa Korte Suprema sa kabilang buhay, isa lamang ang nakaupong Maghuhusga, na Siyang may alam ng tunay na naganap na hindi ayon sa katarungan doon sa huwad na impeachment trial na iyon. Siya rin ang makakapagtuwid sa mga hindi kanais-nais na nangyari sa prosesong iyon. Tama nga pala si Ka Apin.... Sa kabila ng lungkot sa pagpanaw niya, may kagalakan ding 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, Estrada said in his statement. 

Statement of Chief Justice Sereno on the passing of retired Justice Serafin R. Cuevas. The 106th associate justice of the Supreme Court: “As dictated by law but also prompted by the collective desire of the members of the Supreme Court and the staff of the various offices constituting it, the Philippines flag and the colors of the Supreme Court will fly at half-staff as a sign of mourning and great respect on the occasion of the passing of one of our own, the late Justice (ret.) Serafin R. Cuevas, the Court’s 106th associate justice.  They shall remain at half-staff until his burial.

“I extend my sincerest condolences to the family of the late Justice Cuevas whose loss is mine, as well.  Justice Cuevas was a skillful lawyer­—many of the younger generation know him only by what they saw during his most recent high-profile litigation, the man in white holding court before a nationwide audience.  But I also had the privilege of knowing him as a brilliant teacher at the University of the Philippines, from where he finished his law degree and where he first made a mark in many law students’ hearts and minds.  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.

“He was also an erudite gentleman of the old school, speaking always with his words distinctly enunciated and always preferring the elegant language of the law 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.”

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