MANILA, Philippines – It was the first flag ceremony since Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno went on indefinite leave, and the mood at the Supreme Court (SC) on Monday morning, March 5, was cheerful.
Close to a hundred employees wore red or touches of red, including executives such as Court Administrator Midas Marquez, Deputy Court Administrator Raul Villanueva, and Procurement Head Maria Carina Cunanan.
Cunanan was among the heads of office who testified before the House justice committee hearing the impeachment complaint against Sereno. Cunanan testified, among other issues, that it was the Office of the Chief Justice which facilitated the alleged illegal hiring of information technology consultant Helen Macasaet.
Lawyer and complainant Larry Gadon threatened to file a criminal suit against her and other officials for the irregularities if Sereno didn’t resign.
Officials and employees were tight-lipped as to what red meant, but as soon as justices emerged from the SC into the grounds, employees erupted in applause and cheers.
Court Admin Midas Marquez and Deputy Court Admin Raul Vilanueva wear read neckties. What does it mean? They don’t wanna say but a handful employees are also wearing red pic.twitter.com/ZdPSdQ8OZN— Lian Buan (@lianbuan) March 5, 2018
Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo de Castro wore a red dress, while Associate Justice Samuel Martires wore a red polo shirt. Associate Justices Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, and Andres Reyes Jr wore red neckties.
Associate Justices Mariano del Castillo, Francis Jardeleza, Marvic Leonen, Noel Tijam, and Alexander Gesmundo attended the flag ceremony wearing neutral colors.
Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio appeared live on a television morning show to talk about the West Philippine Sea.
Associate Justices Presbitero Velasco, Estela Perlas-Bernabe, and Benjamin Caguioa were not in attendance.
A pocket of Sereno’s supporters chanted “Huwag padadala sa diktadurya (Don’t succumb to dictatorship)” outside the SC while the ceremonies were ongoing.
The group, mostly women, held placards saying President Rodrigo Duterte is scared of women.
This goes to show the complicated story of Sereno’s predicament. She is hailed by supporters as a strong voice of dissent against Duterte, and one who must be protected at all cost.
In her own backyard, however, Sereno couldn’t get the same show of support. In fact, Sereno hasn’t been able to gather that many justices to attend the flag ceremony since she was appointed chief justice.
The non-attendance at flag ceremonies has been interpreted as a form of protest on the part of the justices who weren’t pleased with her appointment. Five years later, they were doing the same show.
The 13 justices said they reached a consensus that the chief justice was to go on an indefinite leave, with Sereno agreeing to it.
Insider stories from the en banc meeting revealed she tried to resist it, but gave in to pressure eventually. (READ: [EDITORIAL] #AnimatED: Tragedy at the Supreme Court)
An indefinite leave doesn’t have a specific provision in the SC’s internal rules, so everybody seems to be playing by ear what rules apply to Sereno.
Sereno has announced she would definitely be taking a wellness leave until March 15, but theoretically she could come back immediately after then, since “indefinite” doesn’t indicate a specific period.
Court sources said that there was an understanding she would be on leave until the end of the impeachment process.
WATCH: Applause at the SC grounds as justices come out for the flag ceremony. Justices Reyes, Martires, Bersamin, Peralta and De Castro all wearing touches of red. Justices Gesmundo, Tijam, Leonen, Del Castillo in attendance also. pic.twitter.com/QRI23YyKj7— Lian Buan (@lianbuan) March 5, 2018