Sereno skirts rules, taps Leonen as ‘pointman’

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Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno has disregarded rules on seniority in the Supreme Court (SC) in order to tap Associate Justice Marvic Leonen as her “pointman” in the Second Division of the High Court.

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The move was effected through Special Order 2311, dated January 14, 2016, entitled “Reorganization of the Three Divisions of the Court and Designation of the Regular Members Thereof,” which Sereno had issued.

The document, a copy of which was obtained by The Manila Times, was signed by the Chief Justice herself and took effect upon the retirement of SC Justice Martin Villarama Jr. last January 16.

“In the interest of the service, the regular members of the three divisions of the court shall be as follows, effective upon the retirement of Associate Justice Martin S. Villarama Jr., on January 16, 2016,” it read.

According to several justices of the SC, who talked with The Manila Times on condition of anonymity, Sereno acted in “bad faith” when she just ordered the transfer of Associate Justice Jose Perez from the First Division to the Third Division.

Normally, seven justices of the High Court were expected to move up after the retirement of Villarama to obtain seniority in each and every division.

They were Perez, Jose Mendoza, Bienvenido Reyes, Estela Perlas-Bernabe, Leonen, Francis Jardeleza and newly appointed Benjamin Caguioa.

Following the Rules on Seniority under Section 8 of the Internal Rules of the SC, Mendoza and Leonen are supposed to be transferred to the First Division.

The rule reads, “The composition of each division shall be based on seniority as follows:

(a) First Division–Chief Justice [Sereno], the fourth in seniority as working chairman [Teresita Leonardo-de Castro], the seventh in seniority [Lucas Bersamin], the tenth in seniority [Mendoza] and the 13th in seniority [Leonen].

(b) Second Division–the second in seniority as chairman [Antonio Carpio], the fifth in seniority [Arturo Brion], the eighth in seniority [Mariano del Castillo], the 11th in senioriy [Bievenido Reyes]and the 14th in senioriy [Jardeleza].

(c) Third Division–the third in seniority as chairman [Presbitero Velasco Jr.], the sixth in seniority [Diosdado Peralta], the ninth in seniority [Jose Perez], the 12th in seniority [Bernabe] and the 15th in seniority [Caguioa].”

This set-up under the Internal Rules was disregarded by Sereno and used the “exception” under the second paragraph of Section 8 that reads, “The Chief Justice may, however, consider factors other than seniority in division assignments. The appointment of a new member of the court shall necessitate the reorganization of divisions at the call of the Chief Justice.”

An SC justice told The Manila Times that if Leonen is transferred from the Second Division to the First Division, Sereno will lose track of cases pending before the Second Division.

Leonen is perceived as the gatekeeper of Sereno in the Second Division.

“Kapag nawala si Marvic [Leonen] sa Second Division, mawawalan ng mata at taga-debate si Sereno sa mga kaso sa loob. Eh matitigas yung mga nasa Second Division, simula kay Carpio at Brion [If Leonen is removed from the Second Division, Sereno will lose her eyes and a debater there. Those in the Second Division are pretty tough, starting with Carpio and Brion],” the source said.

During the SC en banc deliberations last January 12, Perez himself questioned Sereno why he was the only magistrate who was transferred and why the rules on seniority was ignored by the Chief Justice.

The Chief Justice told the en banc that it was done in order “to boost the seniority of Perez” and in order to prevent “the movement of rollos [case documents].”

“I am promoting you,” Sereno told Perez.

The Manila Times learned that associate justices in the tribunal do not get promoted.

Before Caguioa’s appointment was released last Friday, Jardeleza is supposed to stay in the First and Third Division.

But Sereno’s Special Order states, “The designation of Justice Jardeleza as regular member of the First Division shall be effective until a new member of the court assumes office.”

This means that Jardeleza shall stay with the 3rd Division and Caguioa with the First Division.

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