MANILA - (5th UPDATE) Embattled Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno is back to work at the Supreme Court (SC).
Sereno arrived at her chamber in the high court at around 7:30 a.m. Wednesday, according to her spokesperson, Atty. Jojo Lacanilao, who was at the SC with her.
Well-placed ABS-CBN Sources said Sereno called up Acting Chief Justice, Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio to inform him she was resuming work.
Her camp released a photograph of the chief magistrate working on her desk.
Prior to leaving the SC for a private speaking engagement, Sereno descended the steps of the SC, waved at the media and a small group of supporters gathered at the SC’s main gate.
“Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno returns today to the Supreme Court after completing her preparation for her legal defences against the baseless impeachment complaint filed against her. She is ready to face her accusers in the Senate, sitting as an impeachment court, to defend herself and tell the Filipino people the other side of the story: the truth."
“Now that the purpose of her leave of absence has been served, the Chief Justice will resume performing her constitutional mandate and discharging her responsibilities as head of the Judiciary. Her return to her office is in full consonance with our Constitution,” said Atty. Carlo Cruz, one of Sereno’s spokespersons for the impeachment case she is facing before the House of Representatives.
The embattled top magistrate took an indefinite leave from her duties at the high court last March 1 to prepare for a possible impeachment trial.
Apart from an impeachment case at the House of Representatives, she is also facing a separate ouster plea at the Supreme Court, initiated by Solicitor General Jose Calida.
Sereno’s sudden arrival at the high court caused a stir among high court officials who are now at a quandary as to the state of affairs at the high court, especially that Sereno’s "extraordinary" indefinite leave appeared to have been decided by her colleagues.
“After extended deliberations [on February 27, 2018], thirteen of the Justices present arrived at a consensus that the Chief Justice should take an indefinite leave,” the SC justices said in a signed press statement on March 1st, the same day Sereno’s leave took effect.
Sereno reiterated her call for Associate Justices Teresita Leonardo-De Castro, Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Francis Jardeleza, Noel Tijam, and Samuel Martires to recuse from the Office of the Solicitor General’s quo warranto petition that seeks to oust her from office for alleged usurpation of the top judicial post. Sereno has inhibited from the case.
The justices had junked Sereno’s plea for lack of merit.
SC EN BANC MUST LIFT LEAVE OF ABSENCE
Several high court officials, meantime, told ABS-CBN News that Sereno’s return to work must be decided by the SC en banc, considering that the en banc caused her indefinite leave.
“The Chief Justice is primus inter pares, or first among equals. That means, while she is first, she is just one of the 15. The SC is a collegial body. No one justice, not even the Chief Justice, can prevail over the majority,” said a magistrate of the high court, who refused to be named, to ABS-CBN News.
For his part, Cruz said the Chief Justice does not need the approval of her colleagues to return to the Supreme Court because taking a leave was her "personal decision."
"There is no need for concurrence of a member of the court. This is her personal decision... It is her leave, she is entitled to it. When she ends it is up to her," he said.
ABS-CBN sources said Sereno’s return will not have an impact on the scheduled voting on Friday, May 11, on the Office of the Solicitor General’s quo warranto case that seeks to oust her from office.
Solicitor General Jose Calida argued Sereno’s appointment on August 24, 2012 was void because she failed to meet the requirements set by the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC), the body tasked to screen applicants for vacancies in the judiciary. The OSG said Sereno’s failure to submit the required ten Statements of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALNs) upon her application has made her ineligible for the post.
Well-placed ABS-CBN News sources inside the high court bared majority of the magistrates will vote to oust Sereno.
Justice Noel Tijam, who is the justice in charge of the case, has reportedly circulated his 119-page draft decision for Sereno’s immediate removal from office, even as she still may file a motion for reconsideration.
In the interview, Cruz said Sereno will inhibit herself from the quo warranto deliberations "out of delicadeza."
"She is unfazed. Hindi siya nababahala doon. She will face kung anuman ang ilalabas sa kaniyang desisyon ng Korte Suprema," added Lacanilao.
(She is unfazed, she is not worried about it. She will face whatever decision the Supreme Court hands down.)
In a statement on Wednesday, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque reiterated that the Palace recognizes the independence of the judiciary, saying Sereno's decision to return and the reported ruling on the quo warranto petition are "internal matters to the High Court."
"The Executive recognizes judicial independence and respects the separation of powers of the three branches of government, including a functioning judiciary," he said.
The country's first female chief justice was expected to stay in her post until she reaches the mandatory retirement age in 2030. With Johnson Manabat, ABS-CBN News