JUSTICE Maria Lourdes Sereno on Wednesday ended her indefinite leave of absence two days before the Supreme Court holds its special en banc session Friday to resolve the quo warranto petition against her.
Sereno’s spokesperson, lawyer Carlo Cruz, announced that the chief justice decided to return to work after completing her preparation for her legal defenses for her forthcoming impeachment trial before the Senate.
“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,” Cruz said.
The Sereno camp agreed with the opinion of constitutionalist and former Supreme Court Justice Vicente Mendoza that the chief justice is legally within her rights to end her leave of absence and return to the office.
“Justice Mendoza stated that preventing her from resuming her post ‘would bring about a constitutional crisis and upset the balance of power in government,’” Cruz said.
Cruz said Sereno will preside over the special en banc session on Friday, but she will recuse herself when the magistrates start deliberating on the quo warranto petition filed by Solicitor General Jose Calida that seeks her removal from office, in accordance with the Code for Judicial Conduct and out of delicadeza.
Another Sereno spokesman, lawyer Jojo Lacanilao, said the top magistrate arrived around 7:30 a.m. at the Supreme Court to resume her duties.
In Sereno’s absence, Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio was appointed acting chief justice.
Cruz said there was no need for Sereno to seek the permission of the en banc to resume her duties as chief justice.
He said Sereno had only an administrative duty to inform the Court about the end of her leave.
“She has returned and Associate Justice Carpio was in an acting capacity during her leave. But the leave is over, so the chief justice who remains the chief justice is taking over,” he said.
Cruz said Sereno is ready to preside over the special en banc session on Friday where the quo warranto petition is expected to be tackled and resolved by the Court.
“Of course, she will preside, but she… will inhibit herself when the quo warranto petition starts,” Cruz added.
Cruz said Carpio has been informed about Sereno’s return.
“Resignation has never been an option. She will not resign. She is fighting for what she has always maintained as the right thing. She is fighting for the truth and for the Constitution,” Cruz said.
Earlier Wednesday, the Court’s Public Information Office headed by Theodore Te announced that the Court en banc will hold a special session on Friday.
“As per acting Chief Justice Antonio T. Carpio, the Court en banc will hold a special en banc session on May 11, 2018 at 10:00 in the morning. Further advise will be given on that day as to whether there will be a media briefing thereafter,” the advisory read.
Sereno has questioned the haste being taken by her colleagues to resolve the case.
She said she wondered why her fellow justices would opted to resolve the quo warranto case during the Court’s decision-writing break.
“It’s really puzzling because there is no reason to rush [the decision],” Sereno said in a recent speech.
Cruz said Sereno is ready for whatever outcome.
“Now she is here to emphasize that she will adhere to lawful and constitutional process. If that would be the decision, we will see what [other] steps [there] would be, its either a motion of reconsideration. But it all depends on how they will decide,” Cruz said.
Calida filed the quo warranto petition seeking the nullification of Sereno’s appointment as chief justice over her alleged failure to file her Statements of Assets, Liabilities, and Net worth for several years from 1986 to 2006 when she was a professor at the UP College of Law.
It was found out that aside from her SALNS for the years 2006, 2009, 2010, and 2011, which she submitted in her applications for associate justice and chief justice, Sereno only filed SALNs for the years 1998, 2002, and 2006 during her tenure as law professor at the UP College of Law from 1986 up to 2006.
If found guilty, Sereno will be the first chief justice to be removed from the post through quo warranto proceedings.
Sereno insists that the Supreme Court has no jurisdiction to hear and resolve the quo warranto petition since under the Constitution, she can only be removed through impeachment proceedings conducted by the Senate sitting as an impeachment court.
Sereno also said the one-year prescriptive period for filing a quo warranto action has long expired.
If the Court’s ruling on the quo warranto will push through on Friday, it will come ahead of the House plenary vote on the justice committee’s articles of impeachment against Sereno when Congress resumes mid-May.
Sereno will be deemed impeached if at least one-third of the House members vote to accept the committee report.
Subsequently, the Articles of Impeachment will be transmitted to the Senate, which will then convene as an impeachment court to decide whether to convict or acquit the chief justice.
The impeachment complaint was filed by lawyer Larry Gadon.
In his complaint, Gadon accused Sereno of culpable violation of the Constitution, corruption, other high crimes, and betrayal of public trust.
Gadon alleged that Sereno did not declare in her SALN the “exorbitant lawyer’s fees” of USD745,000 or P37 million which she received from the Philippine government.
The complainant said the issue of SALN declaration is the strongest case presented against Sereno.
The complaint also alleged that Sereno committed corruption when she, among other things, used public funds to finance her extravagant and lavish lifestyle by ordering the purchase of a brand-new luxurious Toyota Land Cruiser 2017 model as her personal vehicle, amounting to more than P5 million; and stay in opulent hotels when attending conferences in the country and abroad.
Gadon also ccused Sereno of obstruction of justice by ordering the Muntinlupa Judges not to issue warrants of arrest against Senator Leila De Lima in connection with her drug cases; and failure to report her high attorney’s fees and pay the appropriate taxes on them.
On betrayal of public trust, the complaint alleged that, among other things, that Sereno hired an information technology consultant with an excessive compensation without public bidding; sent a strongly-worded but misplaced reply to President Duterte on the judges linked to drugs thereby inviting a head-on collision between the presidency and the judiciary; and prevented the CA justices from making a courtesy call on President Rodrigo Duterte.
In his complaint, Gadon also claimed that Sereno got a 4 out of 5 grade in her psychological exam.
He said “an applicant to any position in the judiciary with a grade of 4 is unfit for the job.”
The pro-Sereno Coalition for Justice welcomed her return, saying she has “assumed her proper place of leadership in the Supreme Court as mandated.”
COMMENT DISCLAIMER: Reader comments posted on this Web site are not in any way endorsed by Manila Standard. Comments are views by manilastandard.net readers who exercise their right to free expression and they do not necessarily represent or reflect the position or viewpoint of manilastandard.net. While reserving this publication’s right to delete comments that are deemed offensive, indecent or inconsistent with Manila Standard editorial standards, Manila Standard may not be held liable for any false information posted by readers in this comments section.