Philippine Daily Inquirer
SERENO APOLOGIZES TO 13 SC JUSTICES
The Chief Justice tells her fellow magistrates that her plan to use her ‘wellness’ furlough while on indefinite leave to prepare for her impeachment trial was inaccurately conveyed to the public by her spokespersons.
Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, who expects to be impeached by the House of Representatives, issued the apology on Thursday to 13 justices of the Supreme Court for the confusion surrounding her leave of absence.
Sereno said her plan to use her “wellness” leave while on indefinite leave to prepare for her looming impeachment trial in the Senate, was “inaccurately conveyed” by her spokespersons.
Lawyer Jojo Lacanilao and another spokesperson for Sereno announced on Tuesday that the Chief Justice would take a two- week leave starting March 1 to prepare for her defense in the Senate. They also said that going on leave was Sereno’s personal decision.
The spokespersons made the announcement even as Supreme Court insiders were quoted as saying that Sereno had decided to go on an indefinite leave upon the prodding of her colleagues in a full-court meeting on Feb. 27.
Damage to court integrity
Sereno apologized shortly after 13 of the other 14 Supreme Court justices (one is on leave) issued a statement on Thursday assailing her and her spokespersons for causing “confusion” and “serious damage [to] the integrity” of the court.
The justices said Sereno and her spokespersons inaccurately announced the nature of the leave she had taken.
Sereno should have announced “what was really agreed upon” at their last full- court session on Feb. 27 “without any modification or embellishment,” they said in the statement read by Supreme Court public information chief Theodore Te in a news conference.
“The court en banc considers Chief Justice Maria Lourdes P. A. Sereno to be on an indefinite leave starting March 1, 2018. Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio shall be the acting Chief Justice,” the justices said.
The statement was issued by Associate Justices Carpio, Presbitero Velasco Jr., Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Mariano del Castillo, Estela PerlasBernabe, Marvic Leonen, Francis Jardeleza, Samuel Martires, Noel Tijam, Andres Reyes Jr. and Alexander Gesmundo.
Associate Justice Benjamin Caguioa is on leave and did not sign the statement.
In their statement, the magistrates said the 13 justices who attended the full-court session on Tuesday arrived at the “consensus” after extended deliberations that Sereno should take an indefinite leave, with various justices giving “several reasons.”
The Chief Justice had initially scheduled her annual wellness leave, which was approved by the full court, for March 12 to 23. She decided, however, to advance it to March 1 to 15.
In their statement, the magistrates said Sereno “herself announced that she was taking an indefinite leave, with the amendment that she start the leave on Thursday, March 1,” af- ter she consulted with Carpio and Velasco, the two most senior magistrates.
“The Chief Justice did not request the rescheduling of her wellness leave,” the justices pointed out, contradicting the announcement by Sereno’s spokespersons on Tuesday that she had decided to go on wellness leave.
On Wednesday, Sereno’s camp released her letter to the Supreme Court deputy clerk of court, saying she would go on indefinite leave but would charge the portion from March 1 to 15 to her wellness leave.
She said she would take an indefinite leave “until I shall have completed my preparation for the Senate trial.”
Sereno is accused of not fil- ing mandatory statements of assets, liabilities and net worth dating back a decade before she became the Chief Justice in 2012, buying a luxury vehicle with public funds, making certain decisions without consulting her fellow magistrates and other offenses.
Once Sereno is impeached in the House, her case will be sent for trial in the Senate, which currently has 23 members. A two-thirds vote is needed to convict and remove her.
Sereno said she understood the sentiments of her colleagues.
“I had agreed to go on indefinite leave, but I am also bound by the appropriate administrative rules. The rules do not contain any provision on ‘indefinite leave,’” she said in the statement read by Lacanilao at a press briefing in Quezon City.
Sereno explained that she had to qualify her leave according to Rule 7, Section 6(c) of the Internal Rules of the Supreme Court, which states that members on wellness leave for at least 15 continuous calendar days shall be exempt from the raffling of cases.
“I requested yesterday in writing the rescheduling of my wellness leave in view of my restudy of the rules,” she said.
The justices said that in the ordinary course of events, “the court expected the Chief Justice to cause the announcement only of what was really agreed upon without any modification or embellishment.”
They warned that they would take action against the Sereno camp. “This matter shall be dealt with in a separate proceeding.”
The warning prompted La- canilao, a lawyer, to apologize on behalf of Sereno’s spokespersons, saying there was no malice in the information they earlier announced to the media.
“We would like to apologize to the Supreme Court and the House committee on justice for any confusion over the last few days on the issue of CJ Sereno’s leave from her functions in the Supreme Court,” he said.
He noted that he and the other spokespersons had worked on the information made available to them at the time and that they were not privy to any discussions in the full court.
“There was no malice from anyone of us to confuse, mislead or obfuscate what were fast-developing events in the Supreme Court,” Lacanilao added.
While distancing itself from moves to kick Sereno out of office, Malacañang said the country’s top magistrate should think not just of herself but of the integrity of the court when she decides on her next move.
In the House, Deputy Speaker Gwendolyn Garcia urged Sereno and her spokespersons to “face up to the truth,” after misleadingly claiming that she would only be taking a 15-day wellness leave before admitting that her break would be indefinite.
The Office of the Ombudsman ordered Garcia’s dismissal from public office on Jan. 15 for grave misconduct over an unauthorized P24-million backfilling project in 2012. The House refused to enforce the order.
Wewould like to apologize to the Supreme Court and the House committee on justice for any confusion over the last few days on the issue of CJ Sereno’s leave from her functions in the Supreme Court Jojo Lacanilao Sereno Spokesperson