Supreme Court Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno on Wednesday skipped the tribunal’s full court session reportedly to avoid a showdown with fellow justices over her decision to revive a project funded by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) that the SC scrapped a few years ago.
Sereno had reportedly “revived on her own” the project establishing a Regional Court Administration Office (RCAO) in Cebu even if the procedure stipulates that this should be approved by the high court en banc.
A well-placed source told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that Sereno’s action displeased other justices who were bent on questioning her decision at Wednesday’s en banc (full court) session.
However, Sereno called in sick.
“The justices decided to give her another chance and would tackle this with her at next week’s en banc session,” the source, who requested anonymity, told the Inquirer.
According to the source, the Supreme Court en banc has guidelines on how to open an RCAO but Sereno allegedly did not follow this.
The source said the RCAO-7 project was supported and funded by the ADB.
The project underwent pilot testing in 2006 but failed, prompting the Supreme Court to scrap it altogether during the transition period between then Chief Justices Reynato Puno and Renato Corona.
Since she began her 18-year tenure at the high court four months ago, there is still some resistance to the leadership of Sereno from among her colleagues and the latest controversy rocking her court was an indication of this resistance.
Barely a week ago, Sereno had proudly told an alumni homecoming of San Beda law students that she had come to the gathering straight from the airport after coming from Cebu City to launch a newly-opened RCAO there, an issue now at the center of controversy at the high court.
The Chief Justice told the Nov. 29 gathering at the Manila Polo Club in Makati City that the RCAO would be for “the welfare and benefit” of judges in the Visayas who could now file leave applications and other benefits and process them there without going to the court administrator’s office in Manila, according to an Inquirer source who attended the event.
Sereno had remarked on the merits and desirability of having such an office instead of having a centralized office, said the source who found it a “good” and “reasonable” policy.
But at that time, the source said Sereno did not say at the event whether the opening of the office had an “en banc imprimatur” which some of the 15-member high tribunal were now reportedly insisting was needed but which the Chief Justice had allegedly not done.
The angry justices were supposed to confront Sereno in the regular Tuesday en banc session the other day. But the Chief Justice called in sick, the first time since being appointed by President Aquino in August as replacement for Renato Corona, who was ousted by a Senate impeachment court in May.
SC public information chief and lawyer Gleo Guerra said that Sereno had been advised by her doctors to take a rest because she has the flu.