MANILA, Philippines — (UPDATE 2 – 11:46 a.m.) Associate justices of the Supreme Court moved to quell confusion on Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno’s status, saying she is considered to be on indefinite leave from Thursday, March 1.
They also indicated they would investigate statements from Sereno’s camp that caused “confusion” on her leave.
“After extended deliberations last Tuesday, February 27, 2018, thirteen of the justices present arrived at a consensus that the Chief Justice should take an indefinite leave,” a statement read by the high court’s spokesman, lawyer Theodore Te, said.
It added that Sereno herself announced she would go on indefinite leave after consulting “with the two most senior justices.”
Sereno apologized for the confusion and explained she was merely complying with administrative rules. She also made it clear she will not resign.
“The Court en banc regrets the confusion that the announcements and media releases of the spokespersons of the Chief Justice have caused, which have seriously damaged the integrity of the Judiciary in general and the Supreme Court in particular,” the 13 justices’ statement on THursday said.
The justices said they would deal with this issue “in a separate proceeding,” stressing that “in the ordinary course of events, the Court expected the Chief Justice to cause the announcement only of what was really agreed upon without any modification or embellishment.”
In the meantime, Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio will take over Sereno’s post in an acting capacity.
Only Associate Justice Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa, who is on leave, did not sign the statement.
Aside from Carpio, the other justices who authorized the statement are:
- Presbitero Velasco Jr.
- Teresita Leonardo de Castro
- Disodado Peralta
- Lucas Bersamin
- Mariano del Castillo
- Estela Perlas-Bernabe
- Marvic Leonen
- Francis Jardeleza
- Sauel Martires
- Noel Tijam
- Andres Reyes
- Alexander Gesmundo
Following news reports Tuesday saying the chief magistrate had been “pressured” to go on leave ahead of what is expected to be her impeachment trial at the Senate, her spokespersons said she was only going on a 15-day “wellness leave” from March 1, earlier than the original March 12 schedule.
But a letter from Sereno to Supreme Cout Deputy Clerk of Court Anna-Li Papa Gombio confirmed she was going on indefinite leave, “a portion of which I will charge against my wellness leave.”
With their statement on Thursday, the justices effectively admitted it was their consensus and that they had forced Sereno to go on indefinite leave at their en banc deliberations last Tuesday.
It is the first time that SC justices have forced a peer to go on leave in the absence of a pending case even though, in instances where a specific case is lodged against a member of the court, the en banc can impose a disciplinary action such as suspension.
“After extended deliberations last Tuesday, 13 justices present arrived at the consensus that CJ Sereno should take an indefinite leave. Several reasons were mentioned by the various justices,” Te said, briefing court reporters.
The justices denied that Sereno had sought to reschedule her wellness leave, and were thus dismayed the announcement by the CJ’s camp which differed from the consensus.
“In the ordinary course of events, the court expected the CJ to cause the announcement only of what was really agreed upon without any modification or embellishment. This matter shall be dealt with in a separate proceeding.”
Reacting to the justices’ statement, Sereno said Thursday, “it is unfortunate that my plan of making use of an already approved wellness leave in relation to an indefinite leave was inaccurately conveyed for which I apologize.”
Sereno added,”I had agreed to go on an indefinite leave, but I am also bound by the appropriate administrative rules. The rules do not contain any provision on “indefinite leave”.
According to Sereno, it is true she agreed to go on an indefinite leave, but added that she needed to comply with administrative rules. “I had to qualify my leave according to the provisions of Rule 7, Section 6 (c) of the internal rules of the Supreme Court which reads “(c) members of who are on wellness leave or who are on a vacation or sick leave, for at least fifteen continuous calendar days shall be exempt from raffle,” Sereno explained.
She added, “I requested yesterday in writing the rescheduling of my wellness leave in view of my restudy of the leave.”
“I have not resigned and I will not resign. This indefinite leave is not a resignation. I will devote my time to the preparation of my Senate defense and work on the cases in my docket.”
READ THE JUSTICES’ STATEMENT: