Puno earned his law degree from the University of the Philippines. During his stay in the state university, he also served as editor of the Philippine Collegian. He would later finish post-graduate studies at the Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas (Master of Comparative Laws), University of California, Berkeley (Master of Laws), and University of Illinois (finished all academic requirements of the degree of Doctor of Judicial Science).
Puno began his legal career in private practice. In 1969, he joined the law practice of his elder brother Isaac, a future judge whose murder at age 39 remains unsolved to date. In 1971, he joined the Office of the Solicitor General, where he would serve for the next nine years.
In 1980, Puno was appointed by President Ferdinand Marcos as a Justice of the Court of Appeals. He rejoined the executive department in 1984, this time as a Deputy Minister of Justice. Upon the assumption into office of President Corazon Aquino in 1986, Puno was reappointed to the Court of Appeals.
Puno has been praised for his erudite and literary writing style. His predecessor as Chief Justice, Artemio Panganiban, once lauded Puno's writing in the following manner: "Like a trained surgeon, he uses his pen with razor-like precision to separate the excise fabrication from truth and pretension from reality. In the process, he gives life to populist causes and libertarian ideals. Darting, gutsy and erudite, he often wages lonely battles against conventional wisdom with his stirring dissents and insightful opinion." (Panganiban, Justice and Faith, p. 142)
On June 28, 1993, President Fidel V. Ramos appointed Puno as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court at the age of 53. He would serve in that capacity for the next 13 years. Upon the retirement of Justice Josue Bellosillo in 2003, Puno became the Senior Associate Justice.
Traditionally, the most senior Associate Justice was appointed to fill any permanent vacancy to the seat of the Chief Justice, though this tradition was not always observed. Upon the retirement of Chief Justice Hilario Davide in 2005, Puno, as the senior Associate Justice, was a leading candidate for appointment as the next Chief Justice. However, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo instead appointed Associate Justice Artemio Panganiban as Chief Justice, marking the first time in 20 years that the senior Associate Justice was bypassed.
Justice Puno remained as the most senior Associate Justice for the twelve months of the term of Chief Justice Panganiban. Despite some speculation that President Arroyo would again bypass Puno and appoint either Associate Justice Leonardo Quisumbing or Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago as Chief Justice, Puno was appointed to the post within hours from the retirement of Panganiban. Puno denied speculations that he will retire from the position of Chief Justice before May 17, 2010.
In 1996, he was chosen the "Outstanding Alumnus" by the University of the Philippines College of Law.
UP President Emerlinda R. Roman, UP Regents Gari M. Tiongco and Ponciano E. Rivera, Jr., and UPAA Board Secretary Marita P. Carag bestowed the award on Chief Justice Puno during the awarding ceremonies of the day-long celebration.
The 2008 UPAA Most Distinguished Alumnus is the top award given by the UPAA “to recognize UP alumni for their outstanding achievements that bring about substantial benefits to society and distinct honor to the University.”The UPAA conferred on Chief Justice Puno the award for using his UP education to “contribute to the welfare of the Filipinos and to the larger society.”
Chief Justice Puno won over around 200 nominees who were nominated for specific fields of involvement. He was nominated for the Public Service/Good Governance category by two organizations, the Alpha Phi Beta Fraternity Chancery (Alumni Association) and a lawyers’ group. The UPAA Awards Screening Committee decided to name Chief Justice Puno Most Distinguished Alumnus in light of the significant impact the Philippine Judiciary has had on the nation since he assumed the Court’s highest office.
In his response after the awarding ceremonies, Chief Justice Puno said that he views the awards given to him and fellow alumni, not as personal achievements but as recognition of the UP soul and spirit in their beings. “The UP spirit tells us that what is right and what is wrong is never decided by popular vote; that what is right and what is wrong is not resolved by the demagogueries in the market place. UP taught us the lesson there is no right be wrong, to do wrong and to go wrong,” he said.
He also predicted that “UP was pre-eminent in the last 100 years. I have no doubt, it will be preeminent in the next 100 years. We say ‘Push On UP,’ we are going to win.”
As the 2008 UPAA Most Distinguished Alumnus, Chief Justice Puno also spoke at the UP Alumni Council Meeting at the Bahay ng Alumni, UP Diliman, Quezon City last June 20.
At that event, Chief Justice Puno stressed that UP will be “an important center of gravity in our collective efforts to uplift the interest of our people and interlink with humankind’s drive towards universal peace and prosperity.”
He added that “the role of UP in difficult times will be decisive. It has to serve as our fresh fountain of knowledge and reverse our knowledge deficit. It has to be a laboratory of ideas, where old ideas are given the reverence of immutability, and where new ideas are given a tolerant eye. It must improve the quality of our democracy by helping break the monopoly of power of the elites and by halting their heartlessness to the many who cannot exercise their rights due to involuntary poverty.”
In closing, he said that “the UP must maintain its academic freedom, for any institution that searches and stands for truth, that resists expressions of liberty, that holds sacrosanct the right to inquire will most likely be scorned in a society where the powers that reign take comfort in the uniformity of ideas and shun multiformity of thoughts.”
An exhibit about Chief Justice Puno was also showcased at the Bahay ng Alumni, UP Diliman, Quezon City, and at the Araneta Coliseum, Cubao, Quezon City on June 20 and 21, respectively. His awards, magazine feature articles, photos, ponencias, and speeches as well as books written about him were displayed in the exhibit.
Chief Justice Puno graduated from the UP College of Law in 1962, with a Bachelor of Science in Jurisprudence degree and a Bachelor of Laws degree.
Puno was married to Luzviminda T. Delgado-Puno (1940-2006), a lawyer who had been the Clerk of Court of the Supreme Court from 1993 to 2005. Luz Puno (daughter of Dr. Gregorio and Anastacia Delgado) graduated cum laude (Bachelor of Laws) in 1961 at the University of the East, and successfully passed the Bar examinations of that same year, when she was just 21 years old. Their children and their spouses are Reynato, Jr. and Cheryl Mae H. Yap; Emmanuel and Rachelle Catherine Fabreo, and their only daughter Ruth Puno; their three grandchildren are Alessandra Isabelle, Laticia Raquelle and Elijah Rey Puno. Atty. Luzviminda D. Puno passed away at 5:10 am, April 12, 2006 at the St. Luke’s Medical Hospital, Quezon City due to complications from heart surgery.On April 25, 2007, Narcisa "Sisang" Serrano Puno, 92, mother of Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno, died at the Philippine Heart Center in Quezon City. Mrs. Puno was the widow of the late Atty. Isaac I. Puno Sr. Their children and their spouses were Judge Isaac Puno Jr. (who died due to an assassin’s bullet in 1977), and Rosella Jean Makasiar Puno, Atty. Leven Puno and Nelly Reyes Puno, Chief Justice Reynato and Atty. Luzviminda Delgado Puno, Dr. Carlito Puno and Dr. Magdalena N. Puno, Edwin Puno, Dr. Paul Puno and Procesa Bravo Puno, Dr. Myrna Puno Velasquez and Renato Velasquez, Isaac Puno III and Mary Resurreccion Tiambeng Puno, and Marilyn Puno Santiago and Rolando Santiago, and grandchildren.
The 22nd PUNO Supreme Court is set to hold a National Consultative Summit on extrajudicial killings on July 16 and 17, 2007 at the Manila Hotel. Invited representatives from the three branches of the government will participate (including the AFP, the PNP, CHR, media, academe, civil society and other stakeholders). Puno will give the keynote speech and closing remarks. Puno searches for major solutions to solve forced disappearances. During the first day of the summit, the speakers will present their respective papers comprising significant inputs from their respective sectors, while on the second day, the participants will break out into 12 groups (chaired by a Justice) and take part in a workshop. Local and international observers (the diplomatic corps and representatives from various international organizations) will be accredited. Puno informed that "the summit highlight will be a plenary session where each of the 12 groups shall report to the body their recommended resolutions. The reports and proposals will be synthesized and then transmitted to the concerned government agencies for appropriate action". On the other hand, the earlier slated Malacañang-sponsored Mindanao Peace and Security Summit (July 8-10, 2007 at Cagayan de Oro City), would focus on how to make the anti-terror law, or the Human Security Act (HSA) of 2007, more acceptable to the public. It will probably steal the thunder from Puno's own summit on extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances.
On July 16, 2007, Justices, activists, militant leaders, police officials, politicians and prelates attended the Supreme Court's two-day summit at the Manila Hotel in Manila City to map out ways to put an end to the string of extrajudicial killings in the country. Bayan was set to launch their "silent protest", but expressed support for the high court's initiative. Director Geary Barias, chief of the police's anti-killings Task Force Usig, Sen. Panfilo Lacson, Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim, Caloocan Bishop Deogracias Yñiguez, reelected party-list Representatives Satur Ocampo (Bayan Muna) and Crispin Beltran (Anakpawis) graced the affair. SC Chief Justice Reynato Puno said that the "National Consultative Summit on Extrajudicial Killings and Forced Disappearances: Searching for Solutions," would help stop the murders. Delegates were given 12 to 15 minutes each to share their insights and knowledge about the matter. Yniguez scored the government for failing to actively pursue investigations on the hundreds of killings, and the Catholic Church was alarmed that victims have been denied of their "fundamental right" to live. Based on Yniguez-church's count, the number of victims of extrajudicial killings reached 778, while survivors of "political assassinations," was pegged at 370. He also noted 203 "massacre" victims, 186 people who involuntarily disappeared, 502 tortured, and others who were illegally arrested. Yniguez similarly criticized the government's alleged insistence to implement its Oplan Bantay Laya I and II, the military's counter-insurgency operation-plans which militants have said consider legal people's organizations as targets. Meanwhile, Bayan urged the Supreme Court to "check serious threats to civil liberties and basic freedoms" including the anti-terror law or the Human Security Act of 2007, which took effect on July 15 despite protests from leftist groups. Vice President Teofisto Guingona Jr. will join Bayan and other leftist groups as petitioners in their formal pleading before the Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of the law. Human rights lawyer Atty. Edre Olalia of the International Association of People’s Lawyers (IAPL) will serve as lead counsel. Bayan chair Carol Araullo said the respondents will include members of the Anti-Terrorism Council headed by Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita and Raul Gonzalez. Earlier, CBCP president Angel Lagdameo pointed out at least 5 provisions of the law that may threaten civil liberties: Sec. 19 allows detentions of mere suspects for more than three days in the event of an actual or terrorist attack, while Section 26 allows house arrest despite the posting of bail, and prohibits the right to travel and to communicate with others; Sec. 39 allows seizure of assets while Sec. 7 allows surveillance or wiretapping of suspects; Sec. 26 allows the investigation of bank deposits and other assets.
Puno SC summit called for truce, talks with insurgents, as the two-day summit ended: "Let us rather engage in the conspiracy of hope…and hope for peace." Puno said he would forward the summit's recommendation to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the Senate and House of Representatives. "In the clash of arms, the laws are silent. We need to reduce violence, create conditions conducive to less violence based on the rule of law," Associate Justice Conchita Carpio-Morales said in the report. One group recommended that Republic Act 9372 or the Human Security Act be declared unconstitutional. All the groups agreed that insurgency is not only a military but also a political problem and said a ceasefire would be a sign of the government’s goodwill and sincerity in forging genuine peace agreements with all rebel groups. They also recommended the use of the third-party approach to peace negotiations. Among the other recommendations of the summit are: -- for the Supreme Court to reexamine the case of Umil v. Ramos, which said rebellion and related crimes are continuing offenses, thus allowing the warrantless arrest of suspects; to carefully study the possibility of creating a new offense for the killings and assaults on journalists, judges and activities, akin to the law penalizing violence against woman and children; the establishment of sanctuaries where victims and witnesses can take refuge; for the President to certify and the Senate to ratify the Rome Statute, which established the International Criminal Court, and Protocol 1 of the Geneva Convention, which addresses the issue of making civilian populations or individual civilians the object of attacks; the enactment of a law addressing and accurately defining extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances; a study on the use of the writ of Amparo for greater protection of Constitutional rights, and a more creative and resourceful application of the writ of habeas corpus; suspending the presumption of regularity in the performance of official duty in cases of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearance; studying whether the government can continue invoking its immunity from suspension in cases of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances; allowing petitioners for the writ of habeas corpus to seek court orders to search the premises of police and military camps and stations in the presence of a representative from the Commission on Human Rights; requiring the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) to take DNA samples of unidentified cadavers for preservation in the Philippine National Police laboratory; the adoption of international standards of command responsibility; the enhancement of moral, ethical and constitutional values that put a premium on tolerance and the rule of law.
The CPP, however said that the abuses will continue “so long as the mastermind remains in power." “Extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances will continue as long as the mastermind remains in power and enforces a deliberate state terrorist policy that sets the stage for gross violations of human rights." CPP spokesman Gregorio “Ka Roger" Rosal said that the New People’s Army (NPA) and people’s courts are conducting their own investigations and are intensifying efforts to investigate and resolve particular cases of extra-judicial killings and abductions. Rosal cited the case of Capt. Patrick Baesa, an intelligence officer under the notorious 901st Infantry Battalion, who was meted out revolutionary punishment last November 2006. Baesa, who was based in Irosin, Albay, was responsible for organizing the death squads which carried out the killings of Max Frivaldo, Ding Uy, Rei Mon Guran and Barangay Chairman Neal Futalan.“But ultimately it is the Arroyo regime and its top security and military officials who should be punished for these heinous crimes," he said. Further, former vice president Teofisto Guingona and BAYAN petitioned the Court to declare the Human Security Act (HSA) unconstitutional. The 89-page petition for certiorari and prohibition with a prayer for temporary restraining order against the implementation of the anti-terror law. Other petitioners were Gabriela, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, Movement of Concerned Citizens for Civil Liberties, state workers' group COURAGE, Kadamay, Solidarity of Cavite Workers, League of Filipino Students, HEAD, Anakbayan, Pamalakaya, Alliance of Concerned Teachers, Migrante and AGHAM.
Twin horrible deaths hapenned on / circa the same day last year, January 15, 2007, that the Supreme Court of the Philippines' (logo or seal) was mysteriously burned into halves by an almost one hour afternoon fire. Despite different appeals by local and international groups, the spate of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines continued. On January 15, 2008, Reynato Puno condemned the murder of Judge Roberto Navidad, Regional Trial Court, Branch 32, Calbayog City, Samar, the 15th judge to be ambushed since July 20, 1999, the 14th under the Arroyo government. Just starting his engine, black Nissan Patrol SUV (TPL-911), Natividad was shot in the face / left eye, at 7:10 p.m. Monday, by a lone gunman, 5’4" tall and medium-built, wearing black jacket, using a 45 caliber pistol. On Tuesday, Catholic missionary Rey Roda, Oblates of Marry Immaculate (OMI), 54, was shot dead at 8:30 p.m., when he resisted abduction attempt by unidentified 10 armed men in a chapel at ikud Tabawan village, South Ubian, Tawi-Tawi, South Ubian. In February 1997, another OMI leader, Bishop Benjamin de Jesus was shot dead in front of the Jolo cathedral. In 2006, the Asian Human Rights Commission stated that there had been 26 priests, pastors, and churchmen who were liquidate or were victims of violence under the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo administration since 2001. This includes 3 priests who were reported killed just in 2007: Basilio Bautista of the Iglesia Filipina Reform Group, in Surigao del Sur, Indonesian priest Fransiskus Madhu, in Kalinga province, and Catholic priest Florante Rigonan, in Ilocos Norte.
On September 15, 2007, Lawyer Neri Javier Colmenares (National Union of People’s Lawyers) announced that the Supreme Court of the Philippines committee on the revision of rules drafted the writ of amparo rules, which will be promulgated on October. The writ of amparo (Spanish for protection) is a defense to prevent extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances. As supplement, recourse to “Habeas Data,” to grant the right of access information on desaparecidos, will also be provided.
On September 28, 2007, the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) criticized the Writ of Amparo and Habeas Data (Philippines) for being insufficient: "Though it responds to practical areas it is still necessary that further action must be taken in addition to this. The legislative bodies, House of Representatives and Senate, should also initiate its own actions promptly and without delay. They must enact laws which ensure protection of rights—laws against torture and enforced disappearance and laws to afford adequate legal remedies to victims." AHRC objected since the writ failed to protect non-witnesses, even if they too face threats or risk to their lives.
Puno said: "We have our zero backlog program; we continue to review, revise and simplify the Rules of Court; we have established special courts, etc.” Rule of Law Effectiveness (RoLE) Project of CMIS aims "to (1) reduce delay and prevent case congestion, as well as to generally speed up the pace of litigation, (2) strengthen judicial accountability and its integrity infrastructure, (3) enhance the capacity of Justices to manage caseload more efficiently and in a more convenient manner, (4) improve access to justice and public access to relevant information on cases, and (5) improve capacities for sound oversight planning, monitoring, and evaluation of court operations and performance and support better supervision of court operations.