THE Supreme Court en banc forced Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno to take an indefinite leave of absence starting on Thursday after she was confronted by the justices of the high court, The Manila Times sources privy to the meeting said.
Some of the justices even asked for Sereno’s resignation because of loss of confidence and to save the judiciary from further humiliation, the sources said.
The same sources said Sereno talked to the two most senior justices of the high court – Antonio Carpio and Presbitero Velasco Jr. – after some of the magistrates insisted that she go on leave or else be asked to resign.
The Manila Times on Tuesday reported that high court justices would confront Sereno in its en banc session and ask for her resignation amid ongoing impeachment proceedings at the House of Representatives.
She is accused of betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the Constitution, among others, for offenses such as making appointments and decisions without en banc approval and non-submission of all her statements of assets, liabilities and net worth or SALN.
Sereno’s spokesman, lawyer Jojo Lacanilao, denied that the chief justice agreed to go on indefinite leave, saying Sereno would only go on a “wellness leave” from March 1 to 15.
‘Take a leave or resign’
One of the sources said Associate Justice Samuel Martires opened the en banc session by asking Sereno to be honest and say whether or not she had filed all of her SALNs as required by the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC), which screens judiciary appointees.
Sereno went straight to the point and told her colleagues to wait for the Senate impeachment trial, saying: “May I request to follow the constitutional process. Anyway it is only two months [before the Senate trial]. I have complied with the SALN requirements and that it will come out in the Senate. Is that fine?”
Martires, who was appointed by President Rodrigo Duterte to the high tribunal in March last year, said Sereno owed honesty to the institution.
“This is not about you anymore, this is about the institution. It is about the judiciary whose integrity and dignity is being attacked. We have to save this institution which we love…So be honest to us if you really filed and complied. You owe it to us,” the source quoted Martires as saying.
Martires reportedly told Sereno that they “cannot wait anymore for the Senate. Between now and the Senate proceedings, I request you to go on indefinite leave of absence until such time you are cleared of all these charges.”
“If you don’t want go on indefinite leave, then I will ask for your resignation. If you want, let’s all resign right now,” Martires said.
For Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, the matter should be decided as a collegial body. “This is an elephant that we are trying to remove,” the source quoted Leonen as saying.
Associate Justice Noel Tijam, another Duterte appointee, suggested a “no-confidence vote” on Sereno.
Later on, Associate Justices Andres Reyes, Lucas Bersamin, Teresita de Castro and Francis Jardeleza joined the call for Sereno to take an indefinite leave.
“Take an indefinite leave of absence and leave it to us if you complied with the SALN requirements or not,” the source quoted Bersamin as saying.
Open letter circulating
A three-page open letter is circulating at the Supreme Court calling on Sereno to resign.
The paper, titled “An Open Letter for the Resignation of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes P.A. Sereno,” stated that it came “From the Concerned Officials and Personnel of the Supreme Court.”
“We, the concerned officials and personnel of the Supreme Court, are most respectfully pleading Your Honor, Chief Justice Maria Lourdes P. A. Sereno, to please RESIGN immediately considering the evidence revealed and the testimonies given during the impeachment hearings of the Committee on Justice, House of Representatives…,” the open letter stated.
“We can and will no longer remain silent as the Institution falls deeper into disrepute with each passing day and
our officers and personnel pitted against one another, as a consequence of Your Honor’s actions and indiscretions,” it added.
Officials and employees of the high court and the rest of the judiciary have been silent, until now, on Sereno’s impeachment unlike in the case of her predecessor, the late Chief Justice Renato Corona, who received massive support from all courts nationwide during his impeachment woes.
Senate orders robes
Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto 3rd on Tuesday said the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Sereno would begin in July if the House of Representatives transmits the articles of impeachment to the Senate by March.
Congress will take a break in June, he noted.
Senate President Aquilino Pimentel 3rd said the chamber had started preparations for an impeachment trial.
“The Senate is in preparation mode, yesterday I authorized that we should now order our robes,” Pimentel said.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon lamented the infighting happening in the Supreme Court, saying it would not be good for the administration of justice.
“As a lawyer and a former secretary of justice, I am saddened at what is happening in the Supreme Court, with all the rumblings, the infighting,” Drilon said.
“Ngayon lang ako nakakita na (This is the only time that I’ve witnessed) very openly, and becomes part of the public debates, quarrels between the justices,” he added.
WITH JEFFERSON ANTIPORDA