MANILA -- Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno said Wednesday she would use her leave of absence to prepare her legal defense in her impeachment case, which is expected to reach the Senate anytime soon.

“I need to prepare to fight the accusations against me fairly and squarely, with honor, dignity and grace,” Sereno said in her keynote address at the 25th national convention of the Regional Trial Court Clerks of Court Association of the Philippines, held at the Manila Hotel.

“It makes me proud to fight for you,” Sereno told court employees attending the event, her last public engagement before her leave of absence starts Thursday.

The country’s top magistrate assured court workers that the judiciary will continue to fulfill its mission of upholding the rule of law and delivering justice to every Filipino despite her leave of absence.

“I want to give you the assurance that while I will be taking a leave of absence, the ship of state of the judiciary remains on course,” Sereno said.

On Tuesday, Sereno informed Deputy Clerk of Court Atty. Anna-Li Papa Gombio that she was taking an indefinite leave of absence from the high court starting March 1.

Sereno, in her letter to Gombio, cited as reason the “demands of the Senate where I intend to fully set out my defenses to the baseless charges”.

“I will take an indefinite leave, until I shall have completed my preparation for the Senate trial, a portion of which will be charged against my wellness leave under AM No. 07-11-02-SC (Re: Wellness Program of all Justices for 2018), originally from March 12 to 23, 2018, to March 1 to 15, 2018,” Sereno said in a letter.

The top magistrate urged court workers to focus on their jobs while she prepares for her battle in the Senate.

Not resigning

In a press conference in Quezon City, Sereno’s spokespersons Jojo Lacanilao and Josa Deinla maintained that the Chief Justice will not quit her post, and is looking forward to have the impeachment case brought to the Senate for trial where she will have the chance to prove that all the allegations against her are baseless and unfounded.

“We want to emphasize that Chief Justice Sereno has no intention to resign at all from her post as Chief Justice,” Lacanilao said, insisting that Sereno had not done anything wrong or illegal to warrant her removal from office.
Despite her anticipated impeachment by the House of Representatives, Lacanilao said the Chief Justice still had full faith in the impeachment process, which would culminate in a decision by the Senate, sitting as an impeachment court, to either acquit or convict her.

“There is no body or institution outside of the Senate that can force the Chief Justice to resign. Nobody can decide that other than the Senate,” he pointed out.

The 1987 Constitution explicitly states that an impeachable official can only be removed from office by impeachment, the sole power to impeach an official belongs to the House of Representatives, and the sole court for impeachment trials is the Senate.

Lacanilao said that speculations that she had resigned have been spreading like wildfire after Sereno filed her indefinite wellness leave.

He said that it is against the Constitution for other bodies to exert efforts to impeach Sereno, stressing that she is confident that she had done nothing wrong to merit her impeachment.

He said the main focus of Sereno’s legal team is to prepare for the Senate trial, citing that it is far more important to deal with than the charges filed before the Office of the Ombudsman, Office of the Solicitor General, and Bureau of Internal Revenue.

Once the Senate decides to convict her, Lacanilao assured that it won’t take a day for Sereno to step down.

“But before that happens, even now that she is on wellness/indefinite leave, she remains the Chief Justice of the Philippines. So, let us all be clear about that,” he said.

Lacanilao said they were taken aback by reports quoting unnamed sources that some SC justices forced Sereno to resign or go on an indefinite leave during their full court session last Tuesday.
He said it would be unconstitutional for the SC to force her to resign because only the Chief Justice could decide on that.

“Resignation is a personal decision; it cannot be an institutional decision of the Supreme Court,” Lacanilao said.

On questions about her competence, Lacanilao explained that psychological result is not a ground for impeachment, noting that the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) has found and certified Sereno to be fit to be Chief Justice.

He also maintained that Sereno had substantially paid her taxes from her PIATCO income, citing that she had dutifully declared her income and settled her taxes.

Deinla said there appears to be a “desperate and coordinated” effort to remove the Chief Justice through extra-constitutional means.

“It has become apparent that for the detractors of the Chief Justice, desperate times call for desperate measures,” she said.

Deinla cited the “unrelenting attacks and use of every legal trick imaginable”, such as the attempt to force Sereno to resign, the call for the Office of the Solicitor General to initiate a quo warranto petition against her, the filing of a complaint with the Ombudsman, and the harassment of court officials whose only fault is to speak the truth. (PNA)