Malacañang on Monday called on Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno to step down and spare the judiciary from further damage.
Speaking to reporters on Monday, Palace spokesman Harry Roque said it would be better for Sereno to resign, adding another impeachment trial involving the chief justice would further damage the Supreme Court.
“I call upon Chief Justice Sereno to really consider resigning if only to spare the institution from any further damage,” Roque told reporters during a news conference.
“I do not think the judiciary can survive another decision that would remove an incumbent chief justice,” he said, referring to the removal of the late Chief Justice Renato Corona after his impeachment by the House of Representatives and conviction by the Senate that sat as an impeachment court in 2012.
“I think it is high time now for [the]chief justice to reexamine very carefully the effect of another removal from
the institution itself. It cannot be that there will be a second instance that a sitting chief justice will be removed as a result of decision of the Senate. We cannot wait for that,” he added.
Roque issued the statement after Sereno said there was a “resurgence of political forces threatening and harassing the independence of the judiciary.”
But Roque said the impeachment complaint filed against Sereno, supported by President Rodrigo Duterte, did not, by itself undermine the judiciary since it was a process allowed by the Constitution.
“An impeachment proceeding cannot be a means by which to undermine the independence of the judiciary because it’s a constitutional procedure. If at all, perhaps what will undermine the independence of the judiciary would be acts committed by judicial agents that would lead to the initiation of the impeachment proceedings,” he said.
“She has only to blame herself if she feels that the impeachment proceeding has affected the independence of the judiciary,” the Palace official added.
Asked if this was also the position of the President, Roque said, “Of course, the President wants her to be removed altogether `no, by all means.”
Roque added that as a former member of the House Committee on Justice, he believed the allegations against the chief magistrate were supported by “convincing evidence.”
“I’ve seen the evidence because I was a member of the House Committee on Justice, I read the complaint, I read her answer, I read all the replies and I’m very bothered by the allegations which to my mind are supported not just by substantial evidence but very convincing evidence that some of the grounds may in fact be impeachable,” he said.
“The best way to protect the institution is to forego with the trial altogether and save the institution from further damage,” Roque added.
On October 1, Duterte challenged both Sereno and Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales to resign with him over allegations of corruption.
Days after, the House justice committee declared that the impeachment complaint against Sereno filed by lawyer Larry Gadon had “sufficient grounds.”
The complaint filed by Dante Jimenez of the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption and Eligio Mallari of the Vanguard of the Philippine Constitution was dropped.
Sereno rejects Palace resign call
Sereno however said she is not resigning.
“As previously declared, resignation has never been an option. The CJ (chief justice) needs to face the impeachment proceeding precisely to preserve the dignity and independence of both the Supreme Court and the Office of the Chief Justice,” lawyer Carlo Cruz, spokesman of Sereno, told The Manila Times.
Asked if Sereno was afraid of impeachment, Cruz said she was a brave woman.
“Not in the least. She is a brave woman who has a clear conscience,” Cruz said.
In her keynote address at the 8th International Conference on the Training of the Judiciary, Sereno said that a good judicial system was only “as strong and independent as the belief and faith of the people in it.”
“Allow me to remind everyone that the world has been seeing in many regions, a resurgence of political forces threatening and harassing the independence of the judiciary. We note that in troubled times in the past, kings would demand that courts would pronounce their acts as legal, not because kings did not have the physical force to impose their will because they had, but rather the kings wanted their acts to have the force of moral legitimacy,” Sereno told her audience.
“A legitimacy that many times was perceived to come from courts of law. It indicates to a certain extent that the judiciary in those parts of the world and in those times in history had a measure of credibility that politicians wanted to appropriate for whatever political purpose they deem important,” she added.
Gadon’s complaint accuses Sereno, the youngest person to be named chief justice, of the following:
• culpable violation of the Constitution for falsifying various documents, misdeclaring her statement of assets and liabilities and manipulating the screening of judiciary applicants at the Judicial and Bar Council;
• corruption, for using public funds to finance a “lavish lifestyle,” such as staying in posh hotels overseas and purchasing an expensive SUV as her service vehicle;
• other high crimes, for obstructing justice by instructing a Muntinlupa court not to issue a warrant of arrest against Sen. Leila de Lima on drug charges, failing to pay taxes on attorney’s fees and embellishing her credentials; and
• betrayal of public trust, for favoritism and acts usurping powers reserved to the en banc or the full Supreme Court, such the appointment of court personnel and allowing new staff to travel abroad.
President Benigno Aquino 3rd appointed Sereno, the first woman head of the judiciary, on August 25, 2012. Her retirement in 2030 will make her the longest serving chief justice.