MANILA, Philippines - Retired Chief Justice Reynato Puno said the creation of a regional court administration office (RCAO) is a function of the full court and not that of the chief magistrate alone.
In an interview, Puno told ANC: “To me, the [justices’] objection is legal and constitutional…”
Puno is referring to the animosity between incumbent Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno and the current members of the full court following her issuance of a resolution that was not seen nor agreed on by all members. The resolution is about the creation of a Regional Court Administration Office (RCAO) in Cebu City.
Puno begged off when asked whether or not Sereno did anything wrong in the unilateral issuance of the resolution, saying: “I’m really not familiar with what happened [among the magistrates].”
Nonetheless, Puno said the issue at hand also revolves around the power that was delegated to the officer supervising the RCAO. “So the problem is one of defining the parameters of the powers of the RCAO.”
The RCAO, a project sponsored by the Asian Development Bank, was first implemented during the time of Chief Justice Hilario Davide and continued operating until the time of Puno. The full court under Chief Justice Renato Corona supposedly stopped the RCAO’s operations because of feasibility issues.
Puno also recalled that when the RCAO was still operating, he had a choice as to who would be the officer in charge. He said he also informed the full court of his choice then.
“For a long time, I did not choose anybody, just an acting…[The choice] was not a judge from Cebu, to avoid the intramurals there,” he added. The justices also questioned Sereno’s choice of former Cebu judge Geraldine Faith Econg to head the RCAO.
Puno noted, “We have to see the appointment of [Econg], who incidentally is also in charge of the management office of the SC…What does it say, was it an interim appointment?”
Nonetheless, the resolution in question was already tackled by the full court last week. In a statement, the public information office only said: “The members 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.”
A resolution on the matter has yet to be released, however.
Legal pundits said the move can be seen in different ways: the Sereno resolution could have been merely suspended, revoked or superseded.
Also for the first time, Senior Justice Antonio Carpio broke his silence on the controversy. “The constitution is very clear, the SC shall exercise administrative supervision over all courts. When the constitution says the Supreme Court, it's the en banc (full-court),” he told reporters in a chance interview.
Carpio appeared during the SC flag ceremony for the first time on Monday, as well as other senior magistrates. Sereno is out of the country on official business.
Cheers greeted them this morning when they came out for the flag ceremony. The justices and the employees even sang Christmas carols.
Carpio also discussed the supposed rift between Sereno and the rest. He said he has not visited Sereno’s chambers since her appointment.
“We talk to each other. My relationship with her is the same with the others. I stay only in my room the whole day, I don't visit anybody, so don't take that against me because that's the way I treat everybody here,” he said.
Whether or not Sereno’s unilaterally-issued resolution was indeed revoked, he only said: “It's still being written. We already agreed to assign somebody to prepare it.”