MANILA (3rd UPDATE) - Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno will go on leave starting next month as she faces an impending impeachment trial at the Senate.
Her spokesperson Jojo Lacanilao said Sereno will go on a "wellness leave" in March to prepare for a possible impeachment trial.
ABS-CBN News sources, meanwhile, said the Supreme Court en banc forced the top magistrate to go on indefinite leave starting Thursday, March 1.
This even as lawmakers at the House of Representatives have yet to decide whether or not the ouster complaint against Sereno has probable cause.
"CJ (Chief Justice) Sereno will advance her scheduled wellness leave in March to prepare for the Senate trial," said lawyer Jojo Lacanilao.
Speaking to ANC, Lacanilao denied that Sereno was forced to go on leave.
"No, she's not forced. It's her personal decision to go actually on leave. There is nothing, I think, that we can show based on records that the Supreme Court has done to force her in any way to actually take this leave," he said.
Sereno will take her leave on March 1 to 15 instead of March 12 to 23 as originally planned, Lacanilao said.
"There's not much difference there. She advanced it on the idea that she will recoup her strength, rejuvenate, and prepare for the Senate trial that's kinda looming as we see it, looking at what's going on in the House," he said.
The Chief Justice's camp announced Sereno's plans to take a leave as the House justice committee was conducting its last hearing on the impeachment complaint filed against her.
Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali, chair of the House justice committee, blasted conflicting information on the chief magistrate's break.
The lawmaker was initially told that Sereno was going on a wellness leave. Reading from his phone later, Umali said "justices said that what was agreed upon during the en banc was an indefinite leave by the Chief Justice, not a wellness leave."
"Bakit ganito? Nililinlang na natin ang tao. Hindi naman pala ito, pero 'yung lumalabas sa bibig niya or bibig ng kaniyang spokesperson, iba. Pati 'yata spokesperson niya nahawa na sa kasinungalingan," he added.
(Why is it like this? They are lying to the public. What's coming out of her mouth and her spokesperson's mouth are different. Her spokesperson may have been infected by the lying.)
He said he would address the matter with the psychologists and psychiatrists who were in the House hearing as resource persons.
If impeached by the House of Representatives, Sereno will face trial before the Senate sitting as an impeachment court.
Sereno has previously said the probability that lawmakers at the House would impeach her is "quite high" but maintained that she has done nothing wrong.
Lacanilao, however, maintained that the top magistrate would not resign.
In a statement, Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said he hopes Sereno will consider "what would be best" for the Supreme Court during her leave of absence.
"The decision of Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno to file a wellness leave is a personal matter. We are confident that there would be no interruption on the day-to-day operations of the High Court and services would continue unhampered," he said.
"As the Chief Justice takes her wellness leave, we hope she would take this opportunity to reflect on her time and legacy at the Supreme Court and to consider what would be best for the institution which she heads as top magistrate," he added.
Lawyer Lorenzo Gadon filed the impeachment complaint against Sereno, alleging that she misdeclared her wealth and has an extravagant lifestyle.
-reports from RG Cruz and Ina Reformina, ABS-CBN News