MANILA - The Supreme Court en banc's decision to force Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno to take an indefinite leave has no legal basis, the head of the Philippine Association of Law Schools said Saturday.
"I have no knowledge of any statutory basis where justices can ask any justice to take an indefinite leave. With all due respect, I think there is no basis because there is nothing in the internal rules of the Supreme Court that would allow a magistrate to go on indefinite leave," Philippine Association of Law Schools chair Soledad Mawis told ANC's Dateline Philippines.
"This was the first time the chief justice was prevailed upon by other justices to take an indefinite leave," she said.
On Thursday, Supreme Court spokesperson Theodore Te said at least 13 magistrates wanted Sereno, who is currently facing impeachment proceedings, to take a leave of absence due to "several reasons."
Sereno's camp earlier asserted that she was going on a wellness leave to prepare for a possible trial.
Mawis said a complaint must be filed against a sitting justice before a preventive suspension or any other forms of disciplinary action may be imposed.
"Members of the high court would not have any power to remove any of the members because it is very clear in the constitution: a justice may only be removed through an impeachment," she added.
The quo warranto petition filed by suspended lawyer Eligio Mallari last week challenging the validity of Sereno's appointment as chief justice may not be used as basis for suspension as it "stands on hollow ground," Mawis said.
"A petition for quo warranto should be filed within one year from the time the cause of action. Time alone there might be a question as to the propriety of the petition for quo warranto," she said.
The Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP), the organization of the country's lawyers, earlier said Sereno's forced leave was "alarming" as it may serve as a precedent to politicize the removal of justices from office.
"If you open yourself to the possibility of removal by your colleagues, that will now open the process to getting politicized," said Abdiel Fajardo, national president of the IBP.
Sereno, in a statement released Thursday, said her indefinite leave does not mean that she would resign from her post.
In a separate speaking engagement in Baguio City on Friday, Sereno urged impeachment proponents to give her her "day in the Senate impeachment court." She is counting on the chamber for fairness.
Lawyer Lorenzo Gadon, who lodged an impeachment complaint against Sereno, accused the top magistrate of culpable violation of the Constitution, betrayal of public trust, and other high crimes including allegedly omitting income from mandatory declarations dating back a decade before she became chief justice in 2012.
Former President Benigno Aquino III appointed Sereno as chief magistrate in 2012, replacing the late Renato Corona, who was ousted over undeclared wealth. Upon her appointment, she was to serve until reaching the mandatory age of retirement in 2030.