SC justice calls out Sereno's 'inactions,' 'frequent' foreign travels of staff

Ina Reformina, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 20 2017 07:12 PM

A senior magistrate of the Supreme Court (SC) has questioned before the court en banc several actions and "inactions" of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, and called on her colleagues to assert the high court's "Constitutional authority" to act on the questioned administrative matters.

In a memorandum addressed to Sereno and the other magistrates, Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo-De Castro questioned Sereno's "long delay in the filling up" of key SC positions, the appointment to the Philippine Mediation Center Office (PMCO) under the Philippine Judicial Academy (Philja), and granting travel allowances to members of her staff for foreign travels minus the approval of the court en banc.

De Castro urged the full court to order the posting of the "long vacant" positions of the Deputy Clerk of Court, Chief Attorney, and the two positions of Assistant Court Administrators, and come up with guidelines "to require the expeditious posting and filling up of vacant positions to serve the best interest of the service."

De Castro pointed out that the Deputy Clerk of Court and Chief Attorney positions have been vacant for 3 years and 8 months, while the two positions of Assistant Court Administrator have been vacant for more than 4 years.

As for the vacancy in the Deputy Clerk of Court and Chief Attorney's positions, De Castro said there has been no action on the part of the Office of the Chief Justice (OCJ) on applications for the posts transmitted on July 18, 2016.

One Assistant Court Administrator vacancy was posted on October 24, 2016 and the transmittal of applications to Sereno's office on December 13, 2016. De Castro said Associate Justice Jose Perez, prior to his retirement in December 2016, asked Sereno "several times" to put in the court's agenda the filling up of said post, but up to now the post remains unfilled.

"I respectfully submit that it is imperative that the court addresses the long delay in the filling-up [of the enumerated key positions] in the court which is prejudicial to the best interest of the service and in order to give the career officials of the court the opportunity to apply for the said positions," De Castro said.

As for the PMCO post, De Castro stressed that under Administrative Order No. 33-2008, the full court appoints the PMCO chief, upon the recommendation of Philja. However, Sereno issued a mere memorandum along with two other senior justices appointing Atty. Brenda Jay A. Mendoza to the post. Mendoza's appointment was not made by the SC en banc and without Philja's recommendation.

"Administrative Order No. 33-2008 (February 12, 2008) was not followed in the appointment of Atty. Mendoza. The Constitution vests upon the Supreme Court the power to 'Appoint all officials and employees of the Judiciary in accordance with the Civil Service Laws'," De Castro said.

"Hence, unless duly delegated by court resolution, the power to appoint court officials and employees can only be exercised by the court en banc," she added.

In the case of foreign travels by Sereno's staff, De Castro said "the approval of domestic and foreign travels of court officials and personnel is comprised within the power of administrative supervision of officials and employees of the Judiciary" in keeping with the constitutional provision that "[t]he Supreme Court shall have administrative supervision over all court and the personnel thereof."

While the approval of official foreign travels by court officials and personnel has been delegated to the Chief Justice and the chairpersons of the Second and Third Divisions, De Castro said the court en banc's approval is required in granting travel allowances, an authority that the high court has not delegated to the Chief Justice or any of the other magistrates.

"Particular mention should be made of the frequent foreign travels of Atty. Ma. Lourdes E. B. Oliveros, of the Office of the Chief Justice, purportedly with funding support for 'airfare, accommodation and other related travel expenses' from the host organizers of the travel as approved by the Chief Justice and the two division chairpersons.

"However, the Chief Justice granted said OCJ staff (Oliveros) foreign travel allowances charged to the Supreme Court funds without court approval," De Castro said. "The same is true with the foreign travel of the other staff in the OCJ."

NOT THE FIRST TIME

This is not the first time De Castro called out the chief magistrate.

De Castro also issued a memorandum in December 2012 questioning a November 27, 2012 resolution released by Sereno on the reopening of the Regional Court Administration Office (RCAO) in Central Visayas, which "does not reflect the [SC's] deliberation and the consensus of the justices opposing the reopening of RCAO-7." 

Among the objections posed by the justices on the issue are the following: 
- the chief justice has no authority to create the Judiciary Centralized Office, which… shall take full responsibility over the RCAO in Region 7, which was reopened without the approval of the court en banc on November 27, 2012;
- an administrative order issued by Sereno on the matter cannot deprive the high court of its constitutionally mandated administrative supervision over all courts; and
- a pilot study must first be conducted before the actual reopening of the office.

De Castro had also protested Sereno's issuance of a temporary restraining order (TRO) barring the Commission on Elections (Comelec) from proclaiming the five remaining winners in the May 2013 elections party-list race.

The case involved petitions filed by disqualified party-list organizations which questioned their disqualification by the poll body. De Castro, who handled the petitions, insisted she recommended a TRO to cover only the Senior Citizens party-list, which was disqualified by the Comelec due to a term-sharing agreement for its nominees.

In the case of RCAO-7, the SC issued a new resolution that superseded Sereno's issuance; in the case of the party-list organizations, the SC resolved to allow the Comelec to proceed with the proclamation of the winners in the party-list race while reserving seats for Senior Citizens while its case remained pending.