July 21, 2018, 3:19 pm
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Sereno stands ground amid calls to step down

CHIEF Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno yesterday maintained that she will not resign despite mounting calls for her to step down from office.

“Out of love for the judiciary, I must continue my course. I will not resign. I am determined to wage (war) till the logical end (to) this battle started by those who seek to undermine the Constitution and the judiciary,” she told supporters at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City hours after Supreme Court employees and a group of judges pressed her to resign.

After the 7:45 a.m. flag-raising rites at the SC, a group of judges and four court employees’ organizations called on Sereno to step down and make a “sacrifice” to restore peace and order in the judiciary, a plea she strongly rejected.

“I am resolute in carrying on the good and noble fight for judicial independence. I will finish the course of this thorny race,” she told supporters from the Coalition for Justice.

Last week, the House committee on justice found probable cause to impeach Sereno, 57, the first woman to head the SC.

Solicitor General Jose Calida also filed a quo warranto case against Sereno before the SC for her failure to submit 10 statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (Salons) required of her when she applied for the position of chief justice. 

While Sereno stood her ground amid calls for her to step down, judges and SC employees urged her to resign amid her looming impeachment trial in the Senate.

Supreme Court Employees Association president Erwin Olson, after yesterday’s flag-raising rites, read a statement that said it is “timely and proper” for Sereno to resign instead of clinging to her post.

Olson said the statement was also signed by leaders of the Supreme Court Assembly of Lawyer Employees, the Philippine Association of Court Employees, the Sandiganbayan Employees Association and the 1,200-strong Philippine Judges Association headed by Marikina RTC Judge Felix Reyes.

At the Sandiganbayan, most employees were also in favor of Sereno resigning, according to Michael Balon, president of the Sandiganbayan Employees Association that represents the 206 rank-and-file employees of the anti-graft court.

Balon, the bailiff of the Fifth Division, said the consensus was reached after an informal consultation last week although he said no formal resolution or voting was conducted because the court employees “cannot come out in the open.”

Sereno noted that although resignation would be the easier option, it is her duty to stand by the rule of law and fight the impeachment complaint filed against her by lawyer Larry Gadon as “this is the right thing to do.”

She stressed that resigning from her post “will only serve to erode the independence of the Supreme Court and embolden those who demand a subservient judiciary.”

“Kung magre-resign po ako, ibig sabihin, hindi ko po pinaninindigan ang rule of law – na ang bawa’t naakusahan ay may karapatang madinig at ipagtanggol ang sarili... Tungkulin ko ang pakikipaglabang ito. Pinagtatanggol ko ang Konstitusyon. Kasi kapag nagwagi ang mga kaaway sa madilim nilang  balak, lubos na manghihina ang hudikatura at rule of law,” she said.

“Ipinaglalaban ko ang lahat ng ginigipit at sinisikil ang karapatan. Kung nagawa nila sa akin ito na punong mahistrado, magagawa nila ito sa inyong lahat, lalung-lalo na kung wala kayong padrino o kapit sa poder,” she added.

SUCCUMBING TO PRESSURE?

Sereno said those calling for her resignation “succumbed to pressure.”

“Hindi po ako ang nagsimula ng gulo. As I said last week, sinimulan nila ito. Bakit ayaw nilang tapusin? Tandaan po natin, hindi pa ako nakapagsisimulang magbigay ng aking panig,” she said.

Aside from the support of various groups, Sereno noted that another source of her optimism is the support of “many individual judges” who have “refused to be used as pawns and have instead issued calls to maintain the dignity and independence of the judiciary.”

She said the number of these judges is more than the figure of those who supported the PJA’s resignation call.

“It is very sad for the institution that some judges and employees whose freedom and conscience and independence I have fought very hard to defend have succumbed to pressures to enter the political fray,” Sereno noted.

“However, it is most encouraging that the two other major judges’ organizations and several major employees’ organizations have resisted the pressure to join the call for my resignation,” she added.

Sereno said she believes that the truth will come out during the Senate impeachment trial.

The Chief Justice said she is determined to fight for judicial freedom against “extra-constitutional adventurism that treats legal rights and procedures as mere inconveniences that should be set aside when it suits the powers-that-be.”

Members of the CFJ, mostly wearing purple and white shirts, said they “fully support” the Chief Justice in her fight against the “unfair and unjust” conduct of the impeachment proceedings.

The coalition, consisting of several civil groups, said they oppose all actions that circumvent the processes required and allowed by the Constitution in the legitimate removal of the public office.

The group noted that Sereno is just a “victim of rank justice.”

“We must not allow lawlessness and turmoil to overtake our land. We, the people, must rally around CJ Sereno,” the group said.

“We ask her to continue fighting for judicial independence and ensure justice for every Filipino and to fulfill her mandate in truth, righteousness, and justice,” it added.

‘SC IN DISREPUTE’

The groups calling for Sereno to resign the judiciary, in particular the SC, said they can no longer endure an environment wherein the High Court was put into disrepute due to the impeachment proceedings that has dragged on for several months now.

“The pending impeachment proceedings in recent months have put the entire judiciary in disrepute, thereby affecting the honor and integrity of its justices, judges, officials, have pitted against each other resulting in a distressing atmosphere,” the statement read by Ocson said.

“The Court can no longer endure a prolonged environment of this kind.

Its officials and personnel truly dedicated and conscientious public servants, cannot go through another set of hearings and go against each other again in the Senate,” it added.

Ocson read the statement with Reyes beside him.

Behind them were two court employees wearing red shirts bearing the words “Please Resign Now.”

Present during the flag-raising ceremony were nine magistrates of the SC – Senior Associate Justice and acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio and Associate Justices Noel Tijam, Samuel Martires, Francis Jardeleza, Mariano del Castillo, Lucas Bersamin, Diosdado Peralta, Teresita Leonardo de Castro and Presbitero Velasco Jr. Retired Associate Justice Adolf Azcuna also attended the flag raising ceremony.

Ocson denied they were pressured to call for Sereno’s resignation, adding they have to look at the institution and not the person. He said that as early as September last year, Sereno had already lost the support of SC employees because of the slow approval of their benefits and promotions, adding this caused demoralization among employees.

Reyes told reporters that while Sereno has done many positive things for the judiciary and their group, their call for her to resign was based on a larger picture and for the good of the judiciary.

He said the decision has the support of the PJA, adding that 20 out of the 30 board members supported the move.

But a reliable source said some members of the PJA questioned the decision of the group to make a stand on the issue, saying they were not consulted on the matter.

A Facebook post reminding judges and members of the court to remain independent and protect judicial integrity were also being shared by several judges, the source said.

The post said “I stand for judicial independence. I swore to uphold the Constitution and the rule of law. I am committed to abide by the canons of judicial office and the impartiality and independence of the judiciary. In light of the challenges facing the institution, I stand steadfast to my oath and commitments, as it matters not who sits on the bench, but to make sure that the wheels of justice continue to roll,” it said.

The president of the Metropolitan Trial and City Judges Association of the Philippines Judge Leilani Grimares posted in her Facebook account a photo of her behind the seal of the SC with the caption “I stand for judicial independence.”

Sereno’s spokesperson, lawyer Josa Deinla, said they were saddened and bothered by the recent move against her as well as its implications.

She said Sereno has been appealing to court employees not to believe “the lies and rumors” being peddled against her until she was given the chance to present her side in the impeachment trial. – With Ashzel Hachero and Wendell Vigilia
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