THE Supreme Court on Thursday rebuked Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno and her lawyers for causing confusion on the nature of the leave she had taken starting March 1.
In a rare en banc press statement signed by 13 associate justices led by acting Chief Justice Antonio T. Carpio, the Court categorically declared that Sereno has taken an indefinite leave of absence, repudiating the statement made by her lawyers that she was merely taking a “wellness leave.”
The Court also lamented that the confusion arising from the various statements made by Sereno’s spokespersons on the nature of her leave has caused serious damage to the judiciary, prompting them to issue an en banc statement.
The statement read by Court spokesperson Theodore Te during a media briefing clarified that after extended deliberation during last Tuesday’s en banc session, 13 justices arrived at a consensus that Sereno should take an indefinite leave.
“Several reasons were mentioned by the various justices. After consulting with the two most senior justices, the chief justice herself announced that she was taking an indefinite leave, with the amendment that she start the leave on Thursday, March 1, 2018,” the Court statement said.
“The chief justice did not request the rescheduling of her wellness leave,” the Court added, again belying a statement from Sereno’s spokespersons.
“The Court en banc regrets 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,” the Court said.
“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. This matter shall be dealt with in a separate proceeding,” it said.
To clear the air, “the Court en banc considers Chief Justice Maria Lourdes P.A. Sereno to be on an indefinite leave starting March 1, 2018,” the statement said, adding that Carpio would be acting chief justice.
“The Clerk of Court and the Office of the Administrator will be informed and ordered to inform all courts and offices accordingly,” the Court said.
Carpio will also serve as acting chairman of the Judicial and Bar Council and the Presidential Electoral Tribunal.
Te explained that the statement signed by the 13 associate justices was intended “to address the confusion arising from the various statements of the spokesperson of the chief justice with respect to the characterization of the nature of the leave that she had declared.”
Besides Carpio, the other associate justices who signed the statement were Presbitero Velasco Jr., Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Mariano del Castillo, Estela Perlas Bernabe, Marvic Leonen, Francis Jardeleza, Samuel Martires, Noel Tijam, Andres Reyes and Alexander Segismundo.
Associate Justice Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa did not take part as he was on leave.
Sereno had earlier sent a letter to the deputy clerk of court on Wednesday stating that she was taking an “indefinite leave,” a part of which will be charged against her “wellness leave.”
Sereno, who turned down calls for her resignation, said that she will use the time to prepare her legal defense for her looming impeachment trial before the Senate.
Sereno on Thursday apologized for the confusion created by conflicting statements made by her lawyers regarding her leave of absence.
In a statement, Sereno also said that her decision to take an indefinite leave does not indicate that she will resign as chief justice, but showed her resolve to clear her name of the allegations in the impeachment complaint when it is finally transmitted to the Senate for trial.
“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,” Sereno said, in a statement.
“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 apologized,” the embattled chief justice added.
Nonetheless, Sereno said her indefinite leave is bound by the appropriate administrative rules, which do not contain any provision on such a kind of leave.
Sereno had initially scheduled her annual wellness leave, as approved by the Court en banc, from March 12 to 23, but opted to advance it to March 1 to 15 to give her sufficient time to prepare for her legal defense in the looming impeachment trial.
Sereno’s spokesman, Jojo Lacanilao, apologized to the Supreme Court and the House committee on justice for the confusion created by his previous announcement that Sereno was merely advancing her approved wellness leave instead of taking an indefinite leave.
“We were working on information available to us at the time we were engaged and asked questions by the press. The developments and discussions on what transpired during the en banc on Tuesday were not privy to us,” Lacanilao said.
“Therefore, there was no malice on anyone of us to confuse, mislead or obfuscate what were fast developing events in the Supreme Court,” he said.
Lacanilao also presented Sereno’s latest official statement to the media.
“The chief justice understands the sense of the 13 justices that they expected me, in the normal course of events, to cause the announcement of my indefinite leave. I had agreed to go on an indefinite leave, but I am also bound by the appropriate administrative rules,” her statement read.
She reiterated she would qualify her leave pursuant to the Court’s internal rules.
Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said Thursday if Sereno does not resign and a quo warranto proceeding against her prospers, the Palace will have to implement the law and remove her from office.
In a press briefing, Roque said the Office of the Solicitor General was studying the filing of a quo warranto petition before the Supreme Court, questioning the validity of Sereno’s appointment, given her failure to comply with the requirements of her position.
Earlier, lawyer Manny Luna and suspended lawyer Eligio Mallari filed a petition for quo warranto proceedings against Sereno before the Office of the Solicitor General, Roque said.
“If the quo warranto proceeding to be initiated against her before the Supreme Court succeeds, Malacañang will have no choice but to implement her removal,” he said.
Sereno’s camp said a quo warranto proceeding had no basis, as the chief justice may be removed from office only through impeachment.
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