Philippine Association of Court Employees urged the embattled SC chief to step down from the top judicial post. Philstar.com/File Photo

Judges, court employees seek Sereno resignation
Edu Punay (The Philippine Star) - March 12, 2018 - 12:01am

MANILA, Philippines — Judges and court employees have joined hands in calling for the resignation of Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno.

The heads of the Philippine Judges Association (PJA), Supreme Court Employees Association, SC Assembly of Lawyer Employees, Sandiganbayan Employees Union and the Philippine Association of Court Employees urged the embattled SC chief to step down from the top judicial post.

In a one-page joint statement to be read in flag-raising ceremonies at the SC and appellate and lower courts nationwide this morning, the organizations in the judiciary said Sereno is no longer fit to lead the branch that she headed since 2012.

“We, the entire force of the judiciary, which includes judges, officials and court employees under your leadership, are pleading with you, our beloved Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno, to do the timely and necessary sacrifice for the institution that you gave so much time and love in these past years,” read the statement written in Filipino.

“We call on you, for the sake of our people, to step down from your position as chief justice,” it appealed.

The groups lamented how the impeachment proceedings “have put the entire judiciary in disrepute, thereby affecting the honor and integrity of its justices, judges, officials and rank and file personnel.”

“Court officials have been pitted against each other resulting in a distressing atmosphere. This is aggravated by the fact that the Court en banc has taken cognizance of the petition for quo warranto and ordered her to file her comment thereto, instead of dismissing it outright. The Court can no longer endure a prolonged environment of this kind. Its officials and personnel, truly dedicated and conscientious public servants, cannot go through another set of hearings and go against each other again at the Senate,” they said.

The groups urged Sereno, who took an indefinite leave, “not to allow history to judge you as the first woman chief justice, and the youngest at that, to be removed from office.”

“Chief, it is time to let go. Please. Let the judiciary move on. Mabuhay ang ating Hudikatura! Sulong Korte Suprema!” they added.

Sources revealed this statement was already “toned down” as some of the group leaders wanted to convey a stronger message.

“CJ Sereno no longer has the ascendancy to lead the judiciary. She no longer has our confidence and respect,” one of the officers of the groups stressed.

The SC employees will again wear red in flag-raising ceremonies today – this time with judges and court employees in courts nationwide also wearing red – to demonstrate their love for the institution.

Sereno has persistently rejected calls for her to resign to spare the judiciary from damage due to her impeachment case, saying her fight is a “fight for judicial independence.”

The move of judges and court employees came after justices of the high court compelled Sereno to take an indefinite leave from office to insulate the judiciary against the political process of impeachment proceedings against her in Congress.

The SC has also acted on the quo warranto petition filed by Solicitor General Jose Calida last week seeking ouster of Sereno from her post on supposed invalid appointment in 2012. It ordered her to answer the petition in 10 days before deciding whether or not to give due course.

‘Dismiss quo warranto petition’

On the other hand, opposition Rep. Edcel Lagman of Albay urged the SC to junk the quo warranto petition, saying its dismissal would show that the tribunal is impartial.

Calida has asked the court to oust Sereno, claiming she was not qualified for the position when then president Benigno Aquino III appointed her in 2012.

Lagman said the dismissal of Calida’s complaint “would be an opportunity for concerned justices to show that they are fair, judicious and protective of the Constitution.”

“This was the tack of Associate Justice Marvic Leonen who singly voted (last Tuesday) for the outright dismissal of the quo warranto action,” he said.

He noted that Leonen was one of seven justices who led a “mutiny” against Sereno two weeks ago by forcing her to resign. Instead, the chief justice agreed to go on an indefinite leave of absence to prepare for her expected Senate impeachment trial.

“With the seven justices… desisting from voluntarily inhibiting themselves despite their manifest dislike, if not aggression, against the chief justice, then they can prove their impartiality by voting for the dismissal of the quo warranto petition, which in the first place is baseless, offensive to the Constitution and has expired,” Lagman said.

The lawmaker has argued that under the Rules of Court, a quo warranto complaint could be filed within one year from the time an official is appointed or assumes office.

He said Calida was late by five years.

He claimed that it was the leadership of the House of Representatives that instigated him to file the petition.

Another opposition congressman said officers in the SC office of court administrator and the PJA were reportedly urging judiciary personnel to protest against Sereno.

The source said critics of the chief justice have been asking court employees and judges to join protest actions today.

They are also asking judges to sign a manifesto calling for Sereno’s resignation.

“Her detractors are threatening judges with reprisal from other justices if they don’t sign,” the source said.

The House justice committee has slammed Sereno for answering the charges in the media after ignoring the impeachment proceedings. The panel already found probable cause to impeach Sereno.

Committee chairman Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali said his panel would ask the House plenary this next week to send the case to the Senate for trial.

The committee also accused Sereno of falsifying and tampering with court resolutions, excessive spending by buying a luxury official vehicle, staying in “opulent” hotels and flying business class.

Meanwhile, Sereno’s camp has tagged Court Administrator Midas Marquez and PJA president Judge Feliz Reyes as the brains behind a planned manifesto and protest against Sereno today.

Screenshots of texts reportedly coming from the group of Marquez showed the manifesto, calling for Sereno’s resignation, was being circulated among leaders of court unions and associations to be signed by judges today. Pressure was also being exerted on the Metropolitan and Cities Judges of the Philippines to support the oust-Sereno move, threatening them with reprisals from SC justices.

Judges, court groups defy pressure

Despite internal attempts to consolidate the judiciary’s support for Sereno’s resignation, other judges and court groups defied the pressure, lawyer Josalee Deinla, spokesperson for Sereno said.

On their personal social media accounts, judges posted a statement stressing the protection of judicial independence, she added.

“I have only disdain for those who try to curtail that independence and I would do what is written by authority to insinuate the judiciary from partisan politics,” a statement read.

The statement has been shared by at least 22 judges, including Judge Leilani Grimares, president of Metropolitan Trial Court Judges Association of the Philippines.

Last Monday, some SC justices, officials, and employees attended its flag ceremony wearing red.

Insiders revealed that certain officials had been exerting more effort by pushing for participation in its campaign to oust Sereno and asking judges and court employees from across the country to sign the manifesto.

The manifesto was reportedly released by the PJA without getting the opinions of its members, Deinla said.

Only 20 judges were said to have signed the paper, she added.

Sereno’s camp said the move was “a show of force, an attempt to paint the judiciary united in the ‘extraconstitutional’ attempt to remove the chief justice from office. However, cracks in this campaign are beginning to show.”– With Jess Diaz

MA. LOURDES SERENO PHILIPPINE JUDGES ASSOCIATION SANDIGANBAYAN EMPLOYEES UNION SC ASSEMBLY OF LAWYER EMPLOYEES SUPREME COURT EMPLOYEES ASSOCIATION
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