MANILA (2nd UPDATE) - The justices of the Supreme Court (SC), in Tuesday's en banc session, revoked the controversial Nov. 27 Resolution of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno on the reopening of the Regional Court Administration Office (RCAO) which was labeled by Court insiders as "illegal" and "unauthorized."
ABS-CBN News sources bared that Sereno attempted to explain why she ordered the issuance of the Resolution but was prevailed upon by the other justices.
The controversial Resolution states that the Court en banc "resolved to ratify the action of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes P. A. Sereno to revive the Regional Court Administration Office in Region 7, with Phase 1 on; (a) procurement; (b) approval of leave; and (c) payroll administration..."
The resolution also states that Judge Geraldine Faith A. Econg, Deputy Clerk of Court and Judicial Reform Program Administrator, has been appointed as RCAO-Region 7 Officer-in-charge effective immediately, and for a period of two months.
However, the other magistrates denied there was such a ratification on Sereno's actions.
In a 3-page Memorandum to Sereno, dated Dec. 3, Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo-De Castro, 4th most senior justice of the high tribunal, pointed out that the contents of the Resolution did not reflect the actual deliberations of the Court En Banc and did not reflect the objections raised by the other magistrates.
De Castro stressed that appropriate action must be taken to correct the Resolution because the entire Court, not the Chief Justice alone, is constitutionally mandated to administratively supervise over all lower courts.
“I regret that I have to write this Memorandum in connection with Resolution in A.M. No. 12-11-9-SC supposedly adopted by the Court en banc on Nov. 27, 2012… With due respect to the Chief Justice, to my recollection, the Resolution does not reflect the Court’s deliberation and the consensus of the Justices opposing the reopening of RCAO-7.
“The resolution dated Nov. 27, 2012 ratifying the action of the Chief Justice reviving RCAO… and appointing the PMO head as officer in charge must be recalled or amended to faithfully reflect the deliberation of the Court en banc, particularly the objections raised against said AO,” De Castro's Memorandum read.
The RCAO is a project aimed at decentralizing the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA), currently headed by Atty. Midas Marquez. The OCA exercises administrative supervision over the lower courts and assists the high courts in coming up with and implementing administrative policies over lower courts.
The RCAO was pilot-tested in 2008 but never materialized.
De Castro's Memorandum to the chief magistrate enumerated the following objections raised by the high court justices on the reopening of the RCAO:
· The Chief Justie has no authority to create the Judiciary Decentralized Office which under the Administrative Order shall take full responsibility over the RCAO in Region 7 which was reopened without Court en banc approval on Nov. 27, 2012;
· The AO of the Chief Justice cannot deprive the high court of its constitutional duty to exercise administrative supervision over all courts and their personnel and the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) of its statutory duty under Presidential Decree 828 to assist the Supreme Court in the exercise of said power of administrative supervision;
· An official outside OCA was designated to take charge of RCAO answerable only the Chief Justice without any guideline set by the Court en banc;
· The RCAO cannot be reopened without a pilot study. The court took note that when it was launched in 2008, it resulted to protest among judges and court personnel;
· There has to be a study showing the scope of powers of the OCA which will be transferred to RCAO;
· The head of the Project Management Office (Judge Geraldine Faith Econg) cannot be in charge of RCAO since it is not part of her duty. At best, the high court justices said she can participate in a study to determine whether to reopen RCAO or not;
· The high court is constitutionally vested with administrative supervision of all courts and has the authority to decide whether to reopen or not the RCAO.
In Tuesday's session, the justices also decided to task their colleague, Associate Justice Jose Perez, to lead a study on the proposed reopening of the RCAO.
The high court Resolution on the revocation on the controversial issuance is being drafted and will be released anytime soon.
In a press statement from the Office of the Chief Justice, Sereno did not categorically announce the Court en banc's decision to revoke her Resolution. However, Sereno could not hide the fact that the designation of former Court Administrator Perez to head a special committee to study and assess the manner by which decentralization of the high court's administrative functions should be done, is a clear indication that the RCAO project, as envisioned by Sereno, has been shelved for the time being.
Perez's committee will clearly go back to the drawing board to study the decentralization proposal.
"The Chief Justice presided over today's en banc session. Upon her instructions, the agenda included the decentralization of the Court's administrative functions with respect to the lower courts, in order to include all inputs. The members (justices) of the Court are of one mind on the merits of decentralization, and have agreed on measures to ensure its effective and deliberate implementation, including the creation of a committee headed by Associate Justice Jose Portugal Perez to conduct a needs assessment of decentralization," the press statement read.
In last week's en banc session, the first time the matter was calendared for discussion, Sereno was a no-show. She went on sick leave and designated Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio as Acting Chief Justice.