Senior justices still absent in SC flag rites

By Ina Reformina, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 10 2012 10:23 AM | Updated as of Sep 10 2012 11:39 PM

MANILA, Philippines - She may have bested him during the search for the Chief Justiceship, but newly installed Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno can expect Associate Justice Roberto Abad to continue doing his share for the good of the Supreme Court (SC).

Speaking to reporters at the sidelines of Monday's flag rites at the high court, Abad said the SC should move on from the chapter that was the impeachment of Sereno's predecessor, Chief Justice Renato Corona.

Abad said the same can be expected of the other Justices.

"It's something that you should give credit to the members (Justices) of the Court. We should move on," he said.

Asked how Sereno is faring as chief magistrate, so far, Abad said: "She's doing pretty well."

Sereno, who was appointed to the high court only in 2010, bested 5 senior magistrates to the top judicial post: Associate Justices Antonio Carpio, Presbitero Velasco, Jr., Teresita Leonardo-De Castro, Arturo Brion, and Abad.

Her appointment was perceived to be an unwelcome one as it broke the time-honored tradition of seniority in the high tribunal and the rest of the courts, moreso, that one of the 5 most senior magistrates, Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta, and two other justices: Bienvenido Reyes and Estela Perlas-Bernabe, declined their respective nominations in deference to seniority.

Where are the others?

Aside from Abad, only four other Justices joined Sereno in today's flag-raising ceremony at the SC courtyard: Mariano Del Castillo, Martin Villarama, Jr., Jose Mendoza, and Reyes.

Again, the most senior Justices were noticeably not in attendance, in the same way that they were not during Sereno's first flag rites as chief magistrate last Monday.

ABS-CBN News has learned that fewer Justices are now attending the regular breakfast and luncheons by the Court en banc.

"The tension is very palpable," a Justice, who refused to be named, told ABS-CBN News.

Sereno, the first lady Chief Justice of the Philippines, was appointed by President Aquino who had locked horns with Corona. Corona's impeachment was believed to be a contest between the Judiciary and the Executive branch, with Padre Faura accusing Malacañan of undermining judicial independence.

Sereno's appointment was hailed by sectors who believe she can institute dramatic reforms in the Judiciary. However, it had its share of criticisms from farmers of Cojuangco-owned Hacienda Luisita who accuse Sereno of "lawyering for the President's family" and favoring higher compensation for the Cojuangcos for the distribution of the Luisita lands. Sectors who believe she simply is not prepared just yet to take on the responsibility also criticized her appointment.

Just last week, lawyers of former First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo also asked Sereno to inhibit from the case involving Arroyo's challenge to a Department of Justice-issued travel ban on apprehensions she is "biased" in favor of the Aquino administration.

Attys. Ferdinand Topacio and Joselito Lomangaya said Sereno has "the propensity... to vote blindly and consistently in favor of the present administration," citing her vote on the cases involving the Philippine Truth Commission, the Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez impeachment, the Arroyo travel ban, Corona's alleged dollar accounts, and the Senate Impeachment Court's subpoena on Court officials, personnel and confidential Court records.

However, in a brief interview with members of the media on the day Malacañan announced her appointment, Sereno assured the public that her independence "is something that can be expected." She also asked for the public's patience as she embarks on a period of reflection on how best to address the giant tasks ahead of her.