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Does Sereno have SC’s support? Spokesman downplays narrative

MANILA, Philippines – Does Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno have the support of the Supreme Court (SC) as she faces an impeachment complaint before the House of Representatives? Complainant lawyer Larry Gadon would have you believe otherwise.

Gadon drills this point again and again. Last week, he sent photos to reporters of the late former chief justice Renato Corona in the rallies and vigils held for him by the employees of the SC in 2012 when he faced his own impeachment trial.

Where is the same support for Sereno?

She doesn't want to politicize the process. Don't expect to happen now what happened before,” Sereno’s spokesperson lawyer Jojo Lacanilao said in a press conference, adding that the Chief Justice has told the court employees not to be distracted from work.

Leaks in the SC?

Gadon’s impeachment complaint against Sereno is full of accusations that could only have come from inside the Court.

That she supposedly instructed the justices of the Court of Appeals (CA) to defy a show cause order from the House of Representatives related to the detention of 6 provincial officials of Ilocos Norte.

That she supposedly authorized her staff to travel abroad on official time, making it appear they were sponsored by organizations to do away with the approval of the SC en banc.

The most sensational accusation, that Sereno supposedly instructed an SC official to call trial court judges in Muntinlupa to order them not to issue warrants of arrest against Senator Leila de Lima (READ: Sereno: No sufficient evidence in impeachment complaint before House)

“We are not prepared to join this bandwagon of thinking, this chorus that there were leaks in the SC. That is for Gadon to explain,” another one of Sereno’s spokespersons lawyer Carlo Cruz said in a Rappler Talk interview.

Cruz added: “We will not join the chorus and simply say, without any evidence whatsover that the information emanated from the court itself because these are very serious accusations. It would be very irresponsible for us to lean towards that.”

The Sereno team, in fact, does not want to go along with this narrative, that Sereno may not be exactly well-liked in her own turf, even in her own bench.

Sereno and her fellow justices

“Sereno betrayed the public trust when she usurped the mandate of the Court en banc by arrogating to herself alone the running of the Supreme Court and the Judiciary, thereby destroying the Supreme Court as a collegial body,” Gadon wrote in his complaint.

His proof are several resolutions which either overturned or revised Sereno’s original resolutions. (READ: 'Do not be afraid to be minority': Chief Justice Sereno, 5 years on)

In 2013, the en banc issued a resolution which contained supposedly ‘corrective’ provisions to remedy Sereno’s unilateral revival of the Regional Court Administration Office in Region 7 or RCAO 7. 

Also in 2013, the SC issued a status quo ante order (SQAO) which revised Sereno’s Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) on the partylist proclamation during the midterm elections.

The en banc’s SQAO contained Justice Teresita Leonardo De Castro’s recommendation to stop only the disqualification of the Senior Citizens party-list, and not the proclamations as a whole. 

Gadon said that Sereno endured a “harsh tongue-lashing” from the more senior De Castro, which eventually paved the way for the en banc “to rectify” the resolution.

If for Gadon this meant Sereno was destroying the spirit of having a collegial body, Cruz has a completely opposite way of interpreting it.

“If Justice De Castro would have taken exception to the administrative action of the Chief Justice, the fact that she was able to air it and the fact that it may have been tackled in an en banc, that is great, that is an indication that the internal processes at the SC – which by the way I should stress is a collegial body  – it’s working,” Cruz said.

Sereno’s lawyers have defended that the TRO was issued on her own authority because SC rules allows the Chief Justice to act on urgent cases if the court is on recess. (READ: Gadon claims Sereno's reply full of 'lies')

Justices dissenting with Sereno are not isolated with De Castro. They once overturned her decision not to include Francis Jardeleza from the shortlist to become SC justice (he will later be appointed). On that case, not only was Sereno outvoted, retired justice Arturo Brion also wrote in his scathing concurring opinion that there was manipulation on Sereno’s part.

Gadon claims 6 justices have expressed their willingness to testify against Sereno in the impeachment proceedings. (READ: How Sereno answered her impeachment complaint)

If Cruz is to be believed, Sereno does not seem fazed by this.

“If they have something to say, by all means the nation should listen. By all means, our friends in the House committee should listen to what they have to offer,” Cruz said.

Cruz also disagrees that the dissents towards the chief justice is unique to Sereno. 

“Every leader has his problems, every adminstrator is besieged with disagreements regarding interpretations on administrative actions,” he said.

‘No street gutter fight’

Sereno’s lawyers have filed a letter before the House committee on justice requesting to be allowed to cross examine the witnesses who may be presented against the chief justice.

“There are alarming indications that she will be denied the right to cross-examine,” said her camp. (READ: Will SALN pin down Sereno? 'A non-issue' says her spokesperson)

Committee chair Reynaldo Umali, however, told reporters that if Sereno wants to cross examine witnesses, she will have to do it herself. If that will be followed, Sereno will be forced to break her favorite rule of dignified silence.

Her team, made up of 11 notable lawyers, is always ready with the diplomatic answers. 

“The thing we would avoid the most is give any impression in the minds of our countrymen that she will be engaging in a brawl, in a street gutter fight, no,” Cruz said.

He added: “She will do what becomes her as Chief Justice, she will proceed with dignity, she will proceed in an honorable manner.” – Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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