Senior justices attend flag ceremony sans Sereno

By Ira Pedrasa,

Posted at Dec 17 2012 12:27 PM | Updated as of Dec 18 2012 04:36 AM

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) - Senior justices of the Supreme Court on Monday attended the flag ceremony of the SC for the first time since President Benigno Aquino III appointed a newbie to the chief justice position.

They even sang Christmas carols with the employees.

However, Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno was not around to see the scene.

Senior justices Antonio Carpio, Teresita Leonardo De Castro, Arturo Brion, Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin and Martin Villarama attended the high court’s regular flag ceremony.

Sereno is expected to be back on Tuesday after attending a peer-to-peer exchange with counterparts in the United States Supreme Court.

Several magistrates have been no-shows at the SC flag ceremonies since Sereno took her oath of office in Malacanang back in September. For the first time, a junior justice leapfrogged the most senior members to become the new chief justice.

Sereno may also serve 18 years, the longest for any chief justice.

Her first oath-taking as a new member of the high court was well attended. Then Chief Justice Renato Corona was also there. When she was made Chief Justice, however, only the junior members were present including Associate Justice Mariano del Castillo.

In a previous appeal, Sereno reminded court employees not to listen to idle talk. She said her appointment was “neither the work of man nor of any political bloc. This is not a product of lobbying from business or economic interests but by God who knows all the plan of our nation…”

The animosity came to a head when she unilaterally issued a resolution for the creation of a Regional Court Administration Office (RCAO) in Cebu City, which the full court already denied prior to her entry to the high court.

The Asian Development Bank-funded project was deemed not feasible after years of being on stream.

Decentralization sources said Sereno went to the offices of at least two different justices, including de Castro, when the questionable resolution came out. De Castro was at the forefront of criticizing the illegal resolution.

Sereno supposedly wanted to find out how the resolution found its way in the hands of media. The SC, under her leadership, is implementing a “dignified silence” stance.

Sereno filed a sick leave the following day, on the day of a full court meeting. The magistrates thereafter moved to tackle the questionable resolution the following week.

On December 11, the Supreme Court public information office issued the following statement on the resolution. It 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. Sources said that the move can be interpreted different ways: the Sereno resolution could have been merely suspended or revoked or even superseded.

New spokesman

Days after, the high court was greeted with news that Sereno could be changing her stance vis-à-vis dealing with the media.

Sereno tapped in early November Ateneo School of Government Dean Antonio La Viña to give her advice and “strengthen” the public information office of the SC.

La Viña earlier told that he will also study if a spokesman is needed. The report, which may include discussions with the media, may be ready by next year.

Before the full court could read any report from him, however, news again greeted stakeholders that a spokesman has already been appointed. earlier reported that University of the Philippines professor Theodore Te has been tapped as the public information chief/spokesman.

Te remains mum on the matter. Sources said that he has been visible lately in the SC. They also said Te has been inviting colleagues to join him in the PIO.

In the long history of the Supreme Court, there have been only two spokespersons: Ishmael Khan and Jose Midas Marquez.

The latter became one of the SC's most familiar faces on television, having instituted regular press conferences. The PIO was removed from him, however, after Chief Justice Renato Corona was ousted from position.

Sereno has since been snubbing Marquez, though tapping him at times whenever the need calls for it. Marquez remains as the Court Administrator, a position approved by the full court during the time of Chief Justice Reynato Puno.