MANILA, Philippines - Is there still animosity between Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno and her colleagues in the Supreme Court (SC)?
A highly placed source thinks so, citing as proof Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio’s turning down Sereno’s offer for him to head the high court’s computerization program.
And it was not just a simple rejection, the insider told The STAR.
Sereno, whose appointment meant a second and probably final bypass to Carpio’s bid to become SC chief, made the offer in a personal note thanking the latter for substituting for her in an event.
In his reply note, Carpio advised the Chief Justice to offer the post to “the junior justices so they can work their way up.”
“It’s not even a subtle attack. It was very obvious,” the source said.
Sereno is President Aquino’s first appointee to the high court. With her appointment to the highest SC post, she in effect bypassed Carpio and 10 other more senior magistrates.
The top SC post is traditionally reserved for senior justices.
Sereno’s predecessor Renato Corona was ousted by the Senate impeachment court for betrayal of public trust for failing to declare all his wealth in his statements of assets and liabilities and net worth.
Aquino had made no secret of his disdain for Corona, an appointee of former president and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Sereno had testified against Corona in his impeachment trial.
Computerization is one of the priorities of the new Chief Justice. During her oral interview with the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC), she proposed the creation of a body of experts or the adoption of a written manual or software, which would identify possible conflicts in decisions handed down by the court.
“So if you appoint someone to such a crucial post, that entails a lot of trust. But when the offer was rejected, what does that say?” the source said.
Some quarters believe the continued absence of senior justices in the weekly flag-raising ceremony at the SC – despite a reported internal memorandum from Sereno requiring their attendance – is a form of protest.
A member of the high court revealed to The STAR that they would always address Sereno as “madam” instead of “chief” during closed-door sessions.
Even members of her staff seemed unprepared for their sudden transfer to the Office of the Chief Justice (OCJ).
In one instance, the source bared, a decision was returned to the OCJ because it was signed by the chief-of-staff of Sereno. They were told of court rules that a member of the staff is not allowed to sign decisions on behalf of the justices.
In her interview with the JBC, Sereno was asked about what she thought was her ascendancy over other members of the court, considering she was 12th in terms of seniority and had often dissented in big cases.
In her response, Sereno cited the case of the late chief justice Claudio Teehankee who had never lost the respect of other justices despite his dissenting opinions on many rulings favoring the Marcoses.
She said she had already proven her capability to work with senior colleagues during her leadership of the steering committee of the consultative council on constitutional amendments, where justices would “yell at one another during deliberations.”
She said there was nothing to heal in the SC in the first place because the ouster of Corona and her appointment had never caused a rift among the justices.
Upon her appointment, she adopted a “dignified silence” policy, which involved centralizing or restricting the release of information regarding the judiciary, thus making it harder for reporters to secure rulings.
Previous justices were reportedly more liberal in disseminating information.