MANILA, Philippines – The list of justices critical of Supreme Court (SC) Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno just grew longer after a Court of Appeals (CA) justice openly said that the top magistrate showed “lack of delicadeza” in an internal issue.
CA Associate Justice Remedios Salazar Fernando told the House justice committee on Tuesday, January 23, that Sereno promised “protection” to CA justices in a power showdown with the House of Representatives on the issue involving the detention of Ilocos officials, or the so-called “Ilocos 6”.
“For me personally, I find it lack of delicadeza, lack of propriety,” Fernando said.
In June 2017, a CA division of 3 justices ordered the release of 6 Ilocos Norte officials who were detained inside the House premises after being cited in contempt for non-participation in the investigation into the alleged misuse of the provincial tobacco funds.
The House committee on good government and public accountability issued a show cause order against the CA justices to explain why they should not be held in contempt by the lower House. It was a virtual showdown between the legislative and judiciary that created perceptions of a constitutional crisis.
In a carefully-worded joint statement, Sereno and then CA Presiding Justice (now SC Justice) Andres Reyes reminded the House to “observe separation of powers.”
The joint statement was issued June 21. According to Fernando, Reyes and Sereno held a meeting that same day at the SC.
“According to the Presiding Justice, he was given assurance by the Chief Justice that she and the SC will protect the Court of Appeals,” Fernando said. What did Sereno mean by protection?
According to Fernando: “The Presiding Justice said (the Chief Justice) advised the 3 justices to apply for a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) in SC at siya na daw ang bahala (and she would take care of it). Everyone went quiet then.”
Furthermore, a lunch among CA justices was set with Sereno but the Chief Justice supposedly gave instructions for the 3 justices not to be invited. “Because there might be a case filed before the SC, and the Chief Justice might be asked to inhibit from the case,” Fernando said.
Sereno, as head of the judiciary, is also the head of the CA. Is there anything wrong with the judiciary head making that kind of promise to CA justices?
“For me personally, it was irregular, I would not do it. Perhaps as head of the judiciary she was just giving her advice to a lower court member, it may not be proper especially if the public would hear it,” Fernando said.
Fernando was in the running in 2017 for CA Presiding Justice to replace Reyes, but President Rodrigo Duterte chose Associate Justice Romeo Barza instead.
The 3 CA justices did not end up applying for a TRO. It was Ilocos Norte Governor Imee Marcos and the Ilocos 6 who filed a petition, but the appeal for their release became moot when the House, on its own will, eventually released them. – Rappler.com