Justices on Sereno 'transgressions': Until when will we suffer?

MANILA, Philippines – In a rare public display of disdain towards the “first among equals,” several associate justices of the Supreme Court (SC) openly criticized Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno for the apparent mistakes she repeatedly made during her 5-year term.

“I believe that the actions done by the chief justice from the time that she assumed her position showed no respect or courtesy to the court en banc,” said Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo-de Castro on Monday, December 11, as the House committee on justice continued hearing an impeachment case against Sereno.

“I do not disagree with the characterizations made by Deputy Speaker Hernandez,” said Associate Justice Francis Jardeleza, referring to South Cotabato 2nd District Representative Ferdinand Hernandez, who asked the SC justices if they felt insulted by Sereno’s apparent habit of making decisions on her own, without consulting the en banc.

“En banc” refers to all 15 justices of the Supreme Court, including Sereno.

“We are a very small group in the Supreme Court. Sasabihin ko sa kanya, wala namang ganyanan (I would tell her, don’t go that route). You are getting what you want through these devious means that are not right,” added retired associate justice Arturo Brion.

The House committee has been deliberating over 7 hearing days a complaint filed by lawyer Larry Gadon against Sereno. Among Gadon’s allegations is that Sereno curtailed the power of the Supreme Court en banc, a collegial body, by making decisions on her own.

These include the establishment of the Regional Court Administrator's Office (RCAO) in Region VII, the issuance of a temporary restraining order in the proclamation of party-list group winners, and the transfer of the Maute cases from Marawi City to Taguig City, among others.

Yung maliliit na patak, unti-unti pag iniipon mo ang maliliit na patak na niyan,… tulad nang nangyayari ngayon, pagdating ng panahon, nagiging agos. Ang agos, nagiging baha,” said Brion, again referring to Sereno’s apparent habit of making decisions on her own without consulting the rest of the court.

(These small droplets, they accumulate. And like what’s happening now, over time, it becomes a stream. A stream becomes a flood.)

De Castro, who had earlier testified before the committee, added: “I’ve been calling the attention of the chief justice so she will not commit the same mistakes. It’s been 5 years, she has not stopped failing to ask the en banc. Until when will we suffer (Hanggang kailan kami magtitiis)?”

Hernandez pointed out that in the case of the RCAO, the TRO, and the Maute cases, it was the en banc that “corrected” Sereno’s apparent transgressions.

Jardeleza said the en banc was "very concerned about its reputation."

"We are here to make sure that after these proceedings, the people will have continued faith that the en banc, at least the members, and the en banc in its entirety stand for the rule of law," he said.

Both De Castro and Associate Justice Noel Tijam had earlier accused Sereno of breaking the Supreme Court’s own rules in the Maute case by not submitting the case to the raffle committee. De Castro insisted that Sereno cannot designate herself as the member-in-charge.

The House justice committee is set to vote on the impeachment complaint – on whether to accept or reject it – by January 2018. If the committee decides there is probable cause in the impeachment case and one-third of the House accepts this, Sereno will be deemed impeached.

The complaint will then be forwarded to the Senate, sitting as the impeachment court. Once warranted, the Senate will try Sereno and decide on her conviction. – Rappler.com