CHIEF Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno is suffering from a significant mental disturbance, which makes her unfit for her post, a clinical psychologist told lawmakers.
The psychologist, Geraldine Tria, gave the testimony on Tuesday after a four-hour-long closed-door session conducted by the House justice panel that is hearing the impeachment complaint filed by lawyer Lorenzo Gadon against Sereno.
Tria said that based on the accounts of psychiatrists Dulce Sahagun and Genuina Ranoy and psychologists Maria Suerte Caguingin and Bernaden de Leon-Jamon, who conducted the psychological test on Sereno when she applied for the job of chief justice in 2012, Sereno exhibited five out of nine strong manifestations of mental disturbance, namely: grandiosity, thirst for unlimited power, sense of entitlement, exploiting other people to her advantage and lack of empathy.
In August 2012, The Manila Times published an exclusive story on the 11-page psychiatric report on Sereno, in which the chief justice got a rating of 4 out of 5, with 5 being the lowest.
The report described Sereno as dramatic and emotional, and that “she appears energetic and all smiles and agreeable, but with religious preoccupation in almost all significant aspects of her life. She projects a happy mood but has depressive markers, too.”
Tria said: “Definitely, I won’t give her (Sereno) a 4 because of her marginal performance.”
“Her position requires diversionary thinking, she is limited on that, and on her personality, maintaining relationships…she has been failing on those. Her being emotional and dramatic affects the workforce,” she added.
Tria, however, said she did not see Sereno’s psychological exam.
“Based on the findings [of the psychologists], she is not recommendable [for the post of chief justice post],” she insisted.
Psychologists Caguingin and de Leon-Jamon, Tria’s former students, agreed with Tria but did not elaborate since they already expressed their opinions during the closed-door session.
‘Not grounds for disqualification’
But for lawyer Maria Milagros Cayosa of the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC), Sereno’s psychological evaluation score is not a ground to disqualify her as an applicant for the chief justice post.
The JBC screens applicants to the judiciary and submits recommendations to the President.
“There were those who got a score of 1, there were those who got a score of 2, there were those who got a score of 3, there were those who got a score of 4. If it is a 5, then that would mean that the applicant has a diagnosable psychological disorder. The numerical scale is not a basis for disqualification, unless [it reaches the level of 5 wherein]there is a diagnosable psychiatric disorder that would affect the stability of the candidate,” Cayosa told lawmakers in the same hearing.
While Cayosa did not say that Sereno got a 4, she explained that a score for 4 would mean that the applicant’s negative defenses were predominantly present, which may reflect in a clinical observation as difficulty with adaptive functions in several areas of the person’s life.
“We have always adopted a policy that we do not rank the applicants based on the psychological evaluation,” Cayosa added.
‘Not grounds for impeachment’
Sereno’s spokesman, lawyer Jojo Lacanilao, said the results of the chief justice’s psychological evaluation was not a basis for impeachment.
“Congress’ concerns about removal from office should focus on the specific grounds stated in the Constitution, and the psychological report is not one of them. Expanding and redefining the grounds for impeachment is itself a violation of the constitutional provision,” Lacanilao said in a statement.
Under the Constitution, the chief justice may be removed from office upon conviction in an impeachment trial of culpable violation of the Constitution, treason, bribery, graft and corruption, other high crimes, or betrayal of public trust.
Lacanilao also balked at accusations that Sereno flunked the psychological evaluation by scoring a mere 4.
“She did not flunk or fail anything,” Lacanilao said.
He said the fact that the JBC included Sereno in the shortlist of candidates to be appointed chief justice by then president Benigno Aquino 3rd, and was later appointed to the post, meant Sereno was qualified.
“The fact of the matter is the JBC [members]litigated her qualification, President Aquino litigated her qualification, and they said she was qualified and these are the only people who would decide on her qualification,” Lacanilao said.
Another Sereno spokesman, Josa Deinla, echoed Lacanilao, saying Sereno could not have served in the Supreme Court for seven years —two as associate justice and five as chief justice—if she was psychologically unfit.
“The chief justice has been in international and local conferences, presided so many en banc meetings, implemented various reforms, wrote so many opinions and decisions. Thousands of people she had met could attest to her fitness to lead the Supreme Court and the entire judicial branch,” she said in a statement.
A day after forcing Sereno to take an indefinite leave, Supreme Court justices hit the chief magistrate for spreading “fake news” on her leave of absence.
The magistrates are set to issue a press statement saying Sereno was forced to file for “indefinite leave of absence” and not a “wellness leave.”
According to well-placed sources of The Manila Times in the high court, 10 justices met on Wednesday to discuss Lacanilao’s denial on Tuesday that the chief justice did not go on indefinite leave.
The draft press release states that the public confusion must be corrected and that the truth was that Sereno went on an indefinite leave of absence, prodded by the full court or the en banc.
Sources also told The Times the justices got irked that Sereno wrote a letter addressed to en banc Clerk of Court Lani Papa-Gombio that she would go on indefinite leave by using her wellness leave.
The justices, sources said, maintained that the letter should have been addressed to the en banc, not just to
A source said the draft press release was penned by Associate Justice Marvic Leonen.
Sereno, in her letter to Gombio, said she was going on leave beginning March 1 because of the “demands of the Senate where I intend to fully set out my defenses to the baseless charges.”
“I will take an indefinite leave, until I shall have completed my preparation for the Senate trial, a portion of which will be charged against my wellness leave under A.M. No. 07-11-02-SC (Re: Wellness Program of all Justices for 2018), originally from March 12 to 23, 2018, to March 1 to 15, 2018,” Sereno said in a letter.
In a convention in Manila, Sereno urged court workers to focus on their jobs as she prepares for an impeachment trial in the Senate.
“I need to prepare to fight the accusations against me fairly and squarely, with honor, dignity and grace,” Sereno said in her keynote address at the 25th national convention of the Regional Trial Court Clerks of Court Association of the Philippines at the Manila Hotel.
“It makes me proud to fight for you,” Sereno said.
“I want to give you the assurance that while I will be taking a leave of absence, the ship of state of the judiciary remains on course.”