MANILA, Philippines — The perceived “mutiny” against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno by her colleagues in the Supreme Court “diminishes the respect owing to them and tarnishes their dignity even as they placed the high court in an inordinately bad light,” an opposition lawmaker said Friday.
Albay Representative Edcel Lagman stressed that only Congress can remove Sereno through the impeachment process.
But, he noted, “instead of waiting for the chief magistrate to be impeached by the House of Representatives and tried by the Senate, pursuant to the Constitution for alleged ‘impeachable offenses,’ the concerned justices compelled Sereno to take an indefinite leave after a failed attempt to unseat or remove her.”
Lagman was referring to Tuesday’s en banc session during which a number of the justices asked Sereno to go on indefinite leave, although at least one news report, citing unnamed sources, claimed the Chief Justice had been asked to resign.
When Sereno’s spokespersons said she was going on a two-week “wellness leave” to prepare for an expected trial at the Senate, 13 associate justices issued a statement that she had, indeed, gone on indefinite leave starting March 1 and lamented “the confusion that the announcements and media releases of the spokespersons of the Chief Justice have caused, which seriously damaged the integrity of the Judiciary in general and the Supreme Court in particular.”
Sereno later acknowledged she was on an indefinite leave and apologized for the miscommunication, noting that government rules do not allow for indefinite leaves. She also stressed that her leave did not mean she is resigning, as some quarters have urged her to do.
Lagman said the impeachment process should be allowed to run its course.
“It is the Congress, through the separate actions of the House and the Senate, which has the jurisdiction to impeach and remove the Chief Justice if warranted,” he said. “The justices concerned cannot en banc preempt or usurp the jurisdiction of the Congress.”
The House justice committee’s hearings on the complaint against Sereno have exposed deep rifts among the high court justices, six of whom have testified against the chief magistrate.
Lagman slammed this, saying: “After washing dirty robes in public, the subject justices laid bare the embarrassing hostilities in the Supreme Court.”
The justice committee will vote on the determination of probable cause of the complaint on March 7.