It’s time to let go, 5 groups tell Chief Justice
A group of judges and four court employees’ organizations on Monday called on Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno to make a “sacrifice” to restore peace and order in the judiciary by resigning immediately, a plea she strongly rejected.
Some 300 court workers, most of them wearing red shirts to show their disapproval of Sereno, listened as Erwin Oscon, president of the Supreme Court Employees Association (SCEA), read a joint statement after the flag-raising ceremony at the Supreme Court on Padre Faura Street, Manila.
“It is time to let go. Please let the judiciary move on,” said the statement signed by the 1,200-strong Philippine Judges Association (PJA), SCEA, Supreme Court Assembly of Lawyer Employees, Philippine Association of Court Employees, and Sandiganbayan Employees Association.
“It is time you make a sacrifice for the judiciary. We call on you, also for the sake of the Filipino people, to step down as Chief Justice,” the statement added.
Sereno, the country’s first female Chief Justice, faces impeachment by the House of Representatives over accusations she concealed wealth by filing untruthful or incomplete financial statements, evaded the payment of P2 million in income tax, broke the Supreme Court’s collegiality rule, and bought a car with P5 million in taxpayer money for her personal use.
She also faces a challenge in the Supreme Court to her appointment as Chief Justice, in a case filed by Solicitor General Jose Calida, the chief lawyer of President Duterte, whom she angered in 2016 by asserting the judiciary’s authority over judges he had linked to the illegal drug trade.
The House justice committee last week found probable cause to impeach Sereno.
A smaller body is drafting the articles of impeachment, which the justice committee will put to a vote. If approved, the articles of impeachment will be sent to the floor for a vote by the plenary.
If the House votes to impeach her, she will be tried by the Senate, with the 23 sitting senators serving as judges.
Sereno reiterated on Monday that she would not resign and said other judges had resisted pressure to join the campaign against her, so they could “maintain the dignity and independence of the judiciary.”
‘No one can force her’
Malacañang said nobody could force the Chief Justice to resign but asked her to consider the sentiments of the court workers.
“We’ve left the decision to her. No one can force her to resign if she doesn’t want to,” presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said in a press briefing.
“However, I think the sentiments even of the lower court judges have been made known. We can only hope the Chief Justice will take these sentiments into consideration,” he said.
Nine of Sereno’s colleagues in the high court, five of whom wore red neckties, attended the gathering at the Supreme Court compound.
Also present was Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, who has been serving as acting Chief Justice since March 1, after Sereno was forced by 13 justices to take an indefinite break so she could prepare for her defense in the Senate.
There was a brief lull before Oscon, accompanied by other leaders of the court workers’ organizations, read the joint statement, as he waited for the justices to leave the Supreme Court grounds.
Court Administrator Jose Midas Marquez, who also wore a red necktie, stayed in the area and joined the employees.
“The dispute is now here in our own house,” Judge Felix Reyes, PJA president, told reporters after the event.
The big picture
“The Chief Justice has been very kind to our organization. But we decided to join the calls [for her to resign] after looking at the big picture and what’s best for all of us,” Reyes said.
Reyes, however, declined to explain how his group’s decision to force Sereno to quit could help shield the judiciary from political intervention.
“I’m not in a position to answer that,” he said.
Several members of the PJA, composed of Regional Trial Court (RTC) judges, questioned the decision of their leaders to join the fray, saying Reyes did not consult them.
Oscon quickly deflected insinuations that the court employees were forced by some senior court officials to release the statement, saying the Chief Justice had already lost the support of the judiciary’s employees when she failed to deal with their concerns.
“We deny the reports in the media that we were pressured and ordered to conduct these actions against the Chief Justice,” Oscon said.
“This is an initiative of the different associations [of court workers]. As early as September 2017, the employees have withdrawn their support [for the Chief Justice],” he said.
In their joint statement, the groups said the moves to impeach Sereno had placed the “entire judiciary in disrepute, thereby affecting the honor and integrity” of the magistrates and judges.
They said court officials “have been pitted against each other resulting in a distressing atmosphere” and that the court “can no longer endure a prolonged environment of this kind.”
Speaking with reporters, Oscon said a number of court employees had been “demoralized” by Sereno’s failure to act on their problems, including the promotions of many of their members.
Court workers in Cebu City wore red on Monday but said they had been misled into believing it showed they supported Sereno. They said they were neutral and that Sereno should be given her day in court.
In other parts of the country, court workers stayed away from the action in Manila.
“We don’t intend to mount protests,” said RTC Executive Judge Omar Viola in Angeles City, Pampanga province.
“As judges, we are not supposed to intervene. It’s just among them in the Supreme Court. We don’t want to add fuel to the fire,” he added.
Judges in Cagayan Valley said they were not calling for Sereno’s resignation, while court workers in Zamboanga City and Digos City in Davao del Sur said it was business as usual at their courts.
Meanwhile, lawyer Lorenzo Gadon, who brought the impeachment complaint against the Chief Justice, filed two separate criminal cases in the Department of Justice against Sereno’s aide and four other court officials in connection with her impeachment.
Named respondents were Ma. Lourdes Oliveros, Sereno’s chief of staff, lawyer Michael Ocampo, information technology consultant Helen Perez-Macasaet, deputy clerk of court Anna-Li Papa Gombio and Jocelyn Fabian.
Gadon accused them of violating the antigraft law and the Government Procurement Act for hiring Macasaet, which was first disclosed during the impeachment hearing in the House. —With reports from Leila B. Salaverria, Faye Orellana, Tonette Orejas, Melvin Gascon, Ador Vincent S. Mayol, Joey Gabieta, Julie Alipala, Eldie Aguirre, Edwin Fernandez and the Wires
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