By Rey Panaligan
Despite the mounting calls for her to resign, embattled Chief Justice-on leave Maria Lourdes P.A. Sereno reiterated that she will not step down as the country’s top judge.
“I will not resign,”Sereno said in a speech at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City on Monday. She issued the defiant statement shortly after Philippine Judges Association (PJA), the SC Assembly of Lawyer Employees (SCALE), the Philippine Association of Court Employees (PACE), and the Sandiganbayan Employees Association (SEA) joined the “Red Monday” flag-raising ceremony at the Supreme Court to join the mounting calls for her to step down. Most of those who attended the flag-raising ceremony wore shades of red to dramatize their cause.
“The pending impeachment proceedings in recent months have put the entire judiciary in disrepute, thereby affecting the honor and integrity of its justices, judges, officials, and employees…. We call on you, for the sake of our people, to step down from your position as chief justice,”read part of the joint statement issued by leaders of the PJA, SCALE, PACE, and SEA. The statement was read by Erwin Ocson, president of the SC Employees Association (SCEA).
But Sereno said that while resignation is an easier option, she stressed that it is her duty to do the “right thing” and fight to the end the impeachment complaints against her.
She said that resigning will allow “the weight of the office of the Chief Justice to be immediately lifted off my shoulders, freeing me to pursue many things ordinary citizens do. It will end the unrelenting attacks against my person, my staff, and other court officials.”
“But I do not make choices in life on the basis of what is the easier option; but what is the right thing to do. And without the slightest doubt, the right thing to do is to fight this impeachment to the end,” she stressed.
Sereno pointed out that resigning her post “will only serve to erode the independence of the Supreme Court and embolden those who demand a subservient judiciary.”
“To do so would invite the kind of extra-constitutional adventurism that treats legal rights and procedures as mere inconveniences that should be set aside when it suits the powers that be,” she added.
Sereno said she will instead pursue her fight for “judicial independence” and against extralegal adventurism “that seeks to bend the rules when convenient.”
Despite the calls for Sereno to step down, court workers at the Cebu City Palace of Justice opted not to take sides.
“Let any process proceed. Everyone is entitled to a day in court. Chief Justice Sereno should be given a day in court,” said Judge Ramon Daomilas Jr., second vice executive judge at Regional Trial Court-Cebu City.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the Palace has left to Sereno the decision whether or not to step down but hopes she would take into consideration the sentiments of stakeholders.
“No one can force her to resign if she doesn’t want,”Roque said during a Palace news conference.
“However, I think the sentiment even of the lower court judges have been made known and we can only hope that the Chief Justice will take all these sentiments into consideration. But the decision to resign is hers to be made,” he added.
Aside from the impeachment complaints lodged with the House of Representatives’ Committee on Justice which had found probable cause, Sereno is also facing a quo warranto case before the Supreme Court which had already directed her to file her comment in 10 days upon receipt of notice.
The Articles of Impeachment from the House committee will be submitted for voting by all members of the House of Representatives. One-third vote of all the members would be sufficient to transmit the Articles of Impeachment to the Senate for trial.
Sereno is facing impeachment for alleged culpable violation of the Constitution, corruption, and betrayal of public trust. She has denied all the charges.
In almost all of her public appearances and statements of her lawyers, Sereno had urged the House Committee on Justice and the House of Representatives to file the impeachment complaint against her before the Senate so she could present her evidence and have her “day in court.”
The quo warranto case against Sereno was filed by Solicitor General Jose C. Calida for her failure to submit the 10 statements of assets, liabilities and networth (SALNs) required of her when she applied for the position of chief justice.
Calida, in effect, wanted the SC to nullify Sereno’s appointment as chief justice in 2012 and to unseat her thereafter as head of the judiciary.
He told the SC that Sereno’s appointment was invalid from the start because she did not meet the specific qualification of proven integrity with her failure to submit the 10-year SALNs.
“Respondent (Sereno) was appointed as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court although she did not show that she is a person of proven integrity, an indispensable qualification for membership in the judiciary under Section 7(3), Article VIII of the 1987 Constitution,” he said.
“Such ineligibility means that she is unlawfully holding the position of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court…,” he added.
Day in court
Meanwhile, Senator PanfiloLacson said Sereno should be given the chance to defend herself in court just like any other person.
“Every person is entitled to his or her day in court. It’s as simple as that. Chief Justice Sereno is not an exception,” Lacson said in an interview over ANC.
Lacson likewise said
Lacson also said that he and other senators cannot be influenced by anybody, including former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, who has joined the House prosecution team as its adviser.
“Maybe, the issue being raised here is the propriety being a former Senate President. With many colleagues in the Senate, he could influence,” Lacson said. (With reports from Calvin D. Cordova, Genalyn D. Kabiling, Vanne P. Terrazola, and Mario B. Casayuran)