At SC party, CJ could have danced all day
She could have danced all day.
An animated Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno on Friday let her hair down as she invited some of her fellow magistrates and employees of the Supreme Court to dance with her at their annual Christmas party.
Wearing a red shirt, Sereno gamely showed off her dancing skills and strutted on the concrete floor while a choir was singing “Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round The Ole Oak Tree,” a 1970s song identified with the late freedom icon Sen. Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. and the opposition Liberal Party.
The Chief Justice, who landed in President Duterte’s cross hairs for her public statements against the spiraling drug killings, seemed unruffled by the attempts to unseat her, opting not to mention in her speech the impeachment proceedings against her in the House of Representatives.
Instead, the head of the country’s judiciary spoke about the results of the institutional reforms implemented in the court system during the past several years, such as the introduction of “e-courts,” or electronic courts, and the continuous trials that helped the courts swiftly resolve pending cases.
“Our hope is that because of these reforms, the entire justice sector, including the prosecution, the defense and the entire IBP (Integrated Bar of the Philippines) would follow suit,” Sereno told the yearly gathering held at the high court’s quadrangle.
The top magistrate then boasted that the tribunal had not been issued with a notice of disallowance by the Commission on Audit for the past five years, proving its efficiency in handling its finances.
Rift among magistrates
But the palpable rift between Sereno and her fellow magistrates was the Grinch that nearly dampened the court employees’ holiday spirit.
Of the 14 other justices, only Associate Justices Estela Perlas-Bernabe and Mariano del Castillo attended the event.
Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta, whose teenage twin sons performed at the party, chose to sit several rows away from where Sereno, Bernabe and Del Castillo were seated.
Peralta was with Court Administrator Jose Midas Marquez, who had told the House justice committee that the Chief Justice arbitrarily delayed the release of the financial benefits due the spouses and beneficiaries of deceased judges.
Two court officials, who agreed to talk on condition of anonymity, said the absence of other justices at the event was “no big deal” since most of them had also skipped previous Christmas parties.
Three of Sereno’s colleagues—Associate Justices Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, Francis Jardeleza and Noel Tijam—had also testified against Sereno in support of the impeachment complaint filed by lawyer Lorenzo Gadon.
Peralta, Del Castillo, Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and Associate Justice Samuel Martires had also been invited by House justice committee chair Rep. Reynaldo Umali to attend the next impeachment hearing.
In her speech, Sereno announced that the tribunal had approved the “downgrading” of funds for the maintenance and other operating expenses to the lower courts, which would be implemented by the Office of the Court Administrator, an office that Marquez heads.
“We can prove that our judicial reforms (had borne fruit). From five to seven years, (trials) may now be shortened to six months to one year because of the continuous trials. That’s really fast,” the Chief Justice said.