SENIOR magistrates of the antigraft court have refused to yield their posts to newly-appointed Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang in an apparent show of dissatisfaction with President Benigno Aquino 3rd’s decision to name the “most junior justice” as head of the agency.
Similar to the controversies that entailed the appointment of Supreme Court Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno last year, the Sandiganbayan is expected to be rocked by intrigues emanating from Tang’s appointment.
According to a well-placed source of The Manila Times, Tang should have assumed the chairmanship of one of the Tribunal’s five divisions but senior members were defiant and refused to give up their chairmanships.
Sereno and Tang share the same dilemma: They head their respective courts but they are the youngest justices. And for that, they drew the ire of their senior colleagues.
For one, Associate Justice Jose Hernandez, the newly-installed chairman of the Sandiganbayan Third Division, has manifested that he will not give up his post because he is more senior than Tang.
Likewise, the chairmen of the other divisions—Justice Efren Dela Cruz of the first division, Teresita Diaz-Baldoz of the second division, Gregory Ong of the fourth division and Roland Jurado of the fifth division also refused to relinquish their positions to Tang.
The Times attempted several times to get in touch with Tang by phone but all efforts were in vain.
Before the retirement of Sandiganbayan Presiding Justice Francisco Villaruz, Tang ranked number 15, the most junior. But with her latest appointment, she should rank first in order of precedence.
The Times’ source said that Hernandez, in refusing to give up his post, cited the Revised Internal Rules of the Sandiganbayan that states that the most senior justice takes precedence over other justices, following the date of their appointment.
Rule II, Section 5B of the law says: “In the position of a Division Chairman—if a permanent vacancy occurs in the position of Chairman of a Division, the most senior Associate Justice in the Sandiganbayan who is not yet a Chairman shall become Chairman of that Division.”
Hernandez was a former senior member of the Sandiganbayan Fourth Division but with the retirement of Villaruz as chairman of the third division, Hernandez was transferred to the third Division as successor of Villaruz in accordance with the rule on seniority.
Because of this, Tang cannot get the chairmanship in any of the divisions even if she is already the presiding justice.
In effect, Tang can only act as Junior Member of her current Fifth Division chaired by Jurado and where Justice Napoleon Inoturan is the senior member.
When Tang took her oath before Sereno on Wednesday, she immediately assumed the position of presiding justice but found no vacancy in the chairmanships. She then settled to her old junior position in her division which, the court insider said, was “awkward.”
“She’s the Presiding Justice yet she’s the lowest mammal there,” the source noted.