June 23, 2018, 2:43 am
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Colleagues force Sereno to go on leave

CHIEF Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, who is facing an impeachment complaint at the House of Representatives, will take a two-week “wellness” leave starting Thursday, March 1, to prepare for her defense if the complaint reaches the Senate, her camp said yesterday.

But a reliable SC source said Sereno’s colleagues “forced” her to take an indefinite leave in yesterday’s en banc session where the allegations raised in the impeachment complaint filed against her by lawyer Larry Gadon where supposedly raised and discussed.

If she goes on leave, Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio will be the acting Chief Justice.

The source added that Sereno initially refused to go on leave but her colleagues told her they would be forced to call for her resignation if she stood pat on her decision. Ten justices were in favor of her taking an indefinite leave or even resigning but the source refused to identify them.

Rep. Reynaldo Umali, who chairs the House committee on justice holding hearings on Gadon’s complaint, belied the claim of Sereno’s camp that she only took a “wellness leave,” saying he was told that Sereno’s colleagues forced the chief magistrate to take an indefinite leave of absence.

“That so-called wellness leave is a lie. It is (an) indefinite leave and I hate to say it, this was because the en banc forced her into it. So in other words, majority, if not at all, of the en banc forced her to go on a leave,” Umali said.

Malacanang expressed confidence the day-to-day operations and delivery of services by the High Court would not be hampered even if Sereno goes on leave.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said while the filing of leave is a “personal matter,” Malacanang is hopeful that Sereno would use the period to “reflect on her time and legacy at the Supreme Court and to consider what would be best for the institution which she heads as top magistrate.”

Reports said Sereeo, who is facing impeachment charges, decided to go on leave following an en banc session wherein the allegations against were allegedly raised and discussed by the High Court’s justices.

Lawyer Jojo Lacanilao, one of Sereno’s spokespersons, said Sereno had been scheduled to take a leave but “advanced” it so she could prepare for a Senate trial.

Another Sereno spokesperson, lawyer Josa Deinla, said: “Not indefinite. Duration is from March 1 to 15. It has already been scheduled from March 15 to 23 but she is advancing it so she can prepare for her defense at the Senate.”

The House hearing on Gadon’s complaint ended yesterday, with the Justice committee expected to vote next week if there is probable cause, after which it will send a committee report to the plenary.

A vote of at least one third of the members of the House of Representatives – 98 out of 292 congressmen – is needed to send the complaint to the Senate for trial.

Sereno has repeatedly said she will not resign and she will continue the fight for judicial independence.

The SC Public Information Office has yet to issue a statement or comment on the development.

A three-page white paper is now circulating at the SC calling for Sereno’s resignation. The paper, which states it is “From the Concerned Officials and Employees of the Supreme Court” said they have lost their trust, faith and confidence in Sereno and that she should resign now.

EXECUTIVE SESSION

When Sereno balked at the idea of taking a leave, the source said Associate Justice Marvic Leonen motioned for the holding of an executive session without Sereno to transfer the chairmanship of the meeting to Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio.

But Sereno declined and said she should be given time to consult her lawyers, prompting some of the justices to ask her why she needs to consult with her lawyers when the lawyers are not members of the en banc.

Sereno then asked the assembled justices if she could talk in private to Carpio and Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr. Carpio and Velasco, who are both appointees of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to the SC, are the most senior justices in the high court.

After Sereno met with the two, she made the decision to go on leave.

“I don’t want the two other branches of government to use the coercive power of impeachment against the Court. We have to protect the integrity of the Court. Otherwise, democracy is in peril. Let the cleansing start from within, not without,” a source quoted Associate Justice Samuel Martires as saying.

NO URGENCY

Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III said there is no urgency to convert the Senate into an impeachment court and tackle the articles of impeachment against Sereno should the House of Representatives find probable cause to file a complaint against her.

Most likely, the Senate could tackle the impeachment complaint when the third regular session of the 17th Congress opens in July, Sotto said.

He said even if Congress transmits the articles of impeachment to the Senate during the break, about 40 days would be needed to issue summonses and to give the complainants and the respondent time to reply and rebut.

Besides, no lawmakers want to work during Holy Week, he added.

Congress will go on a Lenten break on March 23 and will resume session on May 14. It would go on a sine die adjournment on June 2 and open the Third Regular Session on July 22 after President Duterte’s State of the Nation Address. – With Wendell Vigilia, Jocelyn Montemayor, And Jp Lopez
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