Marcelo Briones Fernan was born in Cebu City on October 24, 1927. He was married to Eloisa Nolasco with whom he had nine children.
As a student, Fernan gained distinction as an outstanding youth leader and scholar. He served as President of the Student Council Association of the Philippines, and was elected Member of the International Honor Societies of Phi Kappa and Pi Gamma Mu.He graduated among the top ten of his class from the College of Law of the University of the Philippines in 1952. The following year, he obtained his Master of Law from the Harvard University in the United States.
He likewise led an active civic and social life as President of the Cebu Jaycees Role Club of Cebu West, Cebu Country Club, chairman and President of the Cebu Newspaper Workers Foundation, Inc.
He was an Associate and later Professorial Lecturer at the University of the Philippines in Cebu, Dean of the College of Law of the University of San Jose – Recoletos now Dean Emeritus, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the University of San Carlos, Secretary General of the Academy of American and International Law Alumni Association and Integrated Bar of the Philippines, Fellow of the International Academy of Trial Lawyer Associations for Asia and the Pacific (LAWASIA) Human Rights Standing Committee, Chairman of the LAWASIA Judicial Section, President of the Fulbright Scholars Association, President of the Philippine Society of International Law, Chairman of the Philippine National Committee of the Asean Law Association and member of the Governing Council, President of the ASEAN Law Association, President of the Fellows on Asia Foundation and Trustee of the Southwestern Legal Foundation in Dallas, Texas, U.S.A.
He received awards in civic, legal and educational fields among which are Most Outstanding Law Practitioner in Cebu City; Most Outstanding UP Alumnus in Civic Affair in Cebu City; Most Outstanding JCI Senator in the Philippines in the Field of Education; The Outstanding Filipino (TOFIL) Awardee, Most Outstanding Alumnus of Abellana National School, U.P. Professional Achievement Awardee in the Field of Law, U.P. Cebu Achievement Awardee as Legal Teacher and Practitioner, Most Distinguished Alumnus from the College of Law, University of the Philippines, 1999 Most Distinguished Alumnus from the University of the Philippines Alumni Association, First Recipient of the Southwest Legal Foundation’s Robert G. Storey International Award for Leadership and First Recipient at the “ Public Award “ of the President Sergio Omeña Memorial Foundation.
He was conferred the titles General Brother of the Agustinian Recollect Order and Knight of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem.
He was the Most Outstanding Cebuano awardee. Next to the late President Sergio Osmeña, he was the second Cebuano in history to be given such highly exclusive and revered recognition.
He received Honorary Doctorate Degrees from the University of San Carlos Cebu City, University of San Jose Recoletos, Cebu City; Centro Escolar University, Member of Angeles University Foundation, Angeles City; De La Salle University, Manila and University of the Philippines-Visayas.
He entered the government service as member of the Cebu City Planning Board. Later, he became a member of the Cebu Provincial Board, delegate to the Constitutional Convention and Assemblyman (Assistant Minority Leader) in the Batasang Pambansa.
He was appointed Associate Justice of the Supreme Court and served as Chairman of the Supreme Court Committee on the Revision of the Rules of Court and Chairman of the House Electoral Tribunal.
He served as the nineteenth Chief Justice of the Republic and was Chairman of the Judicial and Bar Council and the Judiciary Planning and Implementation Office. During his term as Chief Justice, several bold judicial reforms were instituted, among them the judicial orientation and career enrichment program, updating of the Code of Judicial Conduct and the continuous trial program.
In 1995, Fernan was elected as Senator of the Tenth Congress. He became the Assistant Majority Leader and Chairman of the following Senate Committees Justice and Human rights, Labor, Employment and Human Resources Development and Ethics and Privileges.
As Senator, he authored highly significant laws, among these are : Republic Act 8246 or the Court of Appeals Regionalization Act, RA 8493 or the Speedy Trial Act of 1998, RA 8557 of the Philippine Judicial Academy, RA 8525 or the Adopt-a-School Act of 1997 and RA 8558 or the Underground Mine Workers Act.
He also sponsored RA 8247 or the Alien Social Integration Act of 1995. RA 8282 or the Social Security Act of 1997, and RA 8369 or the Family courts Acts of 1997.
At the opening of the Eleventh Congress, Fernan was nominated and elected as President of the Senate and concurrently, Chairman of the Commission on Appointments. During his term as Senate President, the Senate passed the Clean Air Act, the Visiting Force Agreement and the General Appropriations Act of 1999.
Fernan resigned from Senate Presidency on June 28, 1999 due to his failing health. Senator Fernan passed away on July 11, 1999 and was laid to rest at the Cebu Memorial Park, Cebu City. His death was deeply mourned all over the country.
Fernan holds the record as the only Filipino to head both the Judicial and Legislature, as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and as Senate President, respectively.