SC justice questions Sereno-created body
Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta has agreed that Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno’s creation of a Supreme Court technical working group (TWG) should be blamed for the delay in the release of retirement benefits to the surviving spouses of deceased judges.
‘Slept on the job’
Associate Justice Samuel Martires, while stopping short of criticizing Sereno, suggested that families affected by the delay could file administrative cases against members of the judiciary who has “slept on the job.”
Peralta and Martires were the latest of Sereno’s Supreme Court colleagues who appeared before the House of Representatives justice committee’s hearings to determine probable cause to impeach her and try her before the Senate.
During the resumption of proceedings on Monday, Deputy Speaker Gwendolyn Garcia said Sereno’s creation of the TWG delayed the resolution of 29 applications for benefits for at least one and a half year.
This was despite 271 applications being resolved without a hitch prior to Sereno’s creation of the TWG in the aftermath of the issuance of conflicting high court rulings.
The legal question pertained to whether all spouses of judges, even those widowed prior to the effectivity of Republic Act (RA) No. 9946 on Feb. 11, 2010, were entitled to survivorship benefits.
The issue of the retirement benefits was only resolved when the high court promulgated its Sept. 27 en banc ruling to reconcile the conflicting rulings and clarify the proper applicability of RA 9946 for all cases.
The resolution was penned by Martires, who said he “did not know” how the issue was handled prior to his appointment in March.
Court Administrator Midas Marquez said the pending applications for benefits were finally approved after Martires resolved the matter.
Peralta said the TWG was not necessary as he found the law clear enough that survivorship benefits must be granted to the spouses of judges who died prior to the law’s effectivity.
Peralta said that before the TWG was created to recommend the high court’s course of action on future claims, the justices only needed a weekend to review applications and recommend their approval during the full court session.
In faulting Sereno for the delays, complainant Lorenzo Gadon said: “It’s a simple thing. Even with my eyes closed, I could have decided on those [applications].”
Psychiatrists to be invited
But Sereno’s legal team said that throughout the discussion, “there was no evidence or indication that the Chief Justice tried to control or influence the TWG work in any way.”
Meanwhile, the House justice committee was set to invite to its impeachment hearings the psychiatrists whom Sereno allegedly fired for giving her poor marks in her mental fitness test during her application for the top post.
News reports earlier said two psychiatrists hired by the Judicial and Bar Council gave Sereno a rating of “4” out of a scale of 1 to 5, with “5” being the lowest. This was supposedly because she exhibited “depressive markers.”
Besides the psychiatrists, Umali said the committee would also invite incumbent Supreme Court Associate Justices Mariano del Castillo and Andres Reyes, retired Supreme Court Justice Adolf Azcuna, Court of Appeals Justice Remedios Salazar-Fernando and other court officials.
Umali also said during the hearing that the committee would finish its hearings by the end of February or the first week of March at the latest, so it could submit its report for the plenary’s approval before the House adjourns for a Holy Week recess on March 23.