MANILA, Philippines - Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno led the flag-raising ceremony at the Supreme Court (SC) this morning for the first time as Chief Justice.
She also addressed officials and employees of the court for the first time as the new chief magistrate.
Sereno assured them that she is not only the leader of the institution but also a "servant leader" who shall see to it that their needs and concerns are sufficiently addressed.
She expressed confidence that the Judiciary will be allocated with a budget that is commensurate to its needs in the next fiscal year. She also hinted that its budget may be increased from its current 1-percent share of the national budget.
"Panahon po ang hinihingi ko sa inyo kasi nagsimula na po akong gumawa ng lines of communication sa Dep't. of Budget. Makakaasa po kayo na sa nararamdaman ko namang pahiwatig sa kanila ay bukas na bukas ang kanilang isip sa atin. Mukhang gaganda po yata ang magiging usapan," she said.
She asked for prayers in order for talks between the high court and DBM to bear fruit. She also expressed confidence that the Executive and Legislative branches will not hesitate to support the Judiciary.
"Wala pong dahilan na ako'y mangangamba na sila (Executive and Legislature) poy magbibingi-bingihan sa ating mga hinaing. Wala po ako ni konting takot na ibibigay nila sa atin ang kailangan nating tulong," Sereno said.
She also spoke of reviewing the high court's financial status. It is possible, she said, that additional financial help may be accorded to court employees who experienced flooding during the recent torrential rains.
"Ang mga opisyales po sa finance at budget ay kasama ko at nagtatrabaho po kami noong weekend po upang tingnan kung paano ba maiintindihan ang ating budget at financial status at kabutihan ng mga kawani ng hudikatura," she said.
Senior justices absent
Seven justices of the high court --- 6 of them the most senior, and one more senior than Sereno -- did not attend the ceremony. They are Associate Justices Antonio Carpio, Presbitero Velasco, Jr., Teresita Leonardo-De Castro, Arturo Brion, Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, and Martin Villarama, Jr.
Carpio, Velasco, De Castro, and Brion were all candidates for the Chief Justice post. Another candidate bested by Sereno, Associate Justice Roberto Abad, was present during the flag-raising.
Work double time, disregard intrigues
Sereno called on officials and employees of the high court to work double time even as she acknowledged that much needs to be done to improve work conditions in the courts.
"Excited po ako kasi may gagawin pa po tayong kakaiba sa ating hudikatura. Doblehin po natin and energy natin sa ating trabaho. Makakaasa po ba ako na doble ang energy ninyo? Makakaasa po ba tayo na doble ang ating trabaho? Maaari po ba nating hindi muna pansinin ang intriga, hindi po muna natin pakinggan yung mga tsismis po ano?" she said.
The chief magistrate did not go into details but eversince her appointment was announced by Malacanan, word has gone around about her reported low rating in her psychiatric examination -- a requirement for the top judicial post. Reports have also surfaced about the non-inclusion in her statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) of millions she earned from representing government in the case against NAIA terminal 3 builder Philippine International Air Terminal Co., Inc. (Piatco) from Oct. 2003 - July 2008.
Sereno has yet to address the issue on her psychiatric examination but as far as the Piatco issue is concerned, she said, in an earlier press statement, that her SALN indicates "savings left from the legal fees paid by the government to her... net of the amounts paid for value-added tax, operating expenses and personal consumption."
Sereno called on all government workers in the Judiciary to give her and her colleagues in the Court En Banc their trust, and to give her time to initiate her programs.
"Narito po ako upang maghanap ng solusyon kasama na po sa aking mga colleagues sa Korte Suprema. Nagsusumamo po ako na pagkatiwalaan ninyo po kami an naiintindihan po namin ang mga hinaing ninyo at nais po naing makahanap ng solusyon sa mga hinaing na ito. Kaya't ang hinighini ko po sa inyo, gaya ng hiningi ko sa tamumbayan, na pagbigyan naman po nila tayo ay bigyan ninyo po kami ng kamrapatang panahon at espasyo upang pag-isipan ang napakaraming problema po ng hudikatura," she said.
"Kung sinabi ko po magtrabaho po kayo, asahan po ninyo na ako'y buong kayod na nagtatrabaho rin. Kung sinabi ko pong magtiis muna tayo, ako po rin ay handang magtiis," she added.
Sereno's appointment is both a historic and controversial one. Not only is she the first female Chief Justice of the republic, she is also one of the most junior justices who bypassed 11 other magistrates to the top judicial post. In addition to that, Sereno's term of 18 years -- the second longest in Philippine history -- douses all hope for the other 13 sitting justices' ever ascending to the top judicial post.
But Sereno is unfazed, reminding her colleagues and the entire Judiciary that her appointment is part of a divine plan.
"Ito po (her leadership), ang buong mundo ay testigo, na galing po sa panginoong Diyos lamang. Hindi po ito gawa ng tao, hindi po ito gawa ng kahit anong political bloc. Hindi po ito ng paglolobby ng business or economic interest ngunit ang Diyos ang may alam kung ano ang plano Niya sa taumbayan. Siya lamang po ang nagtalaga na siguro po ay panahon na upang ibigay ang liderato sa Kanyang isang abang lingkod," she said.
She asked officials and employees of the Judiciary to continue to solicit prayers for the courts. She stressed that the success of her leadership rests on their collective effort.
Sereno announced that she will continue to do her rounds in the different offices of the high court to see for herself the work conditions of employees in their respective work areas.