CHIEF Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno said Monday she will fight to prove her innocence at her impeachment trial before the Senate, despite snowballing calls for her to resign, even from judges and court employees.
“I will not resign. I am determined to wage until the logical end this battle started by those who seek to undermine the Constitution and the judiciary,” Sereno said in a speech before the Coalition for Justice organized by her supporters at the University of the Philippines in Diliman.” I am resolute in carrying on the good and noble fight for judicial independence. I will finish the course of this thorny race.”
Sereno’s speech coincided with the nationwide “Red Monday” of the 1,200 strong Philippines Judges Association along with other court officials and employees who called for her immediate resignation.
In her speech, Sereno appealed to her fellow magistrates, judges and court employees to allow her to defend the rule of law and the judiciary’s independence by answering all the allegations against her during the impeachment trial.
The chief magistrate said succumbing to calls for her to step down would be detrimental to the judiciary’s independence and would only “embolden those who demand a subservient judiciary.”
“To do so would invite the kind of extra-constitutional adventurism that treats legal rights and procedures like mere inconveniences that should be set aside when it suits the powers that be,” Sereno said.
Although recognizing that resignation is an easy way out, Sereno said that such move is not the right thing to do.
Sereno said the mess currently happening in the judiciary arising from her impeachment was not her doing.
“We should all remember that I have yet to start telling my side of the story. You should all wait for my side before the Senate,” she said.
She also took the PJA to task for calling on her to resign.
“It is very sad for the institution that some judges and employees whose freedom and conscience and independence I have fought very hard to defend have succumbed to pressures to enter the political fray,” she said.
Sereno also said she was elated and encouraged that two other major judges’ organizations and several major employees’ groups have resisted the pressure to join the call for her resignation.
“It is also a source of hope that many individual judges, more than the number who supported the PJA statement, have refused to be used as pawns and have instead issued calls to maintain the dignity and independence of the judiciary,” she said in a statement.
“While the call to resign appeals to my love for the judiciary, it is also out of love for the judiciary that I must continue my course. And I say to you: do not fear the outcome for we will emerge stronger and more highly regarded in the end,” she added.
Most of the Supreme Court justices compelled Sereno to take an indefinite leave of absence to insulate the Court from politics as she heads toward an impeachment trial.
Last week, through a vote of 38-2, the House committee on justice found probable cause in the impeachment complaint filed by lawyer Larry Gadon against Sereno.
Gadon, in his complaint, accused Sereno of culpable violation of the Constitution, corruption, other high crimes, and betrayal of public trust.
Meanwhile, various groups in the judiciary jointly issued a statement calling for Sereno’s resignation during the nationwide “Red Monday’s” flag ceremony in various courts nationwide.
In a statement read at Monday’s flag ceremony, the PJA, the Supreme Court Employees Association (SCEA), the Supreme Court Assembly of Lawyer Employees (SCALE), the Philippine Association of Court Employees (PACE) and the Sandiganbayan Employees Association (SEA) urged Sereno to step down to save the judiciary from “disrepute that affects the honor and integrity of justices, judges, and court employees.”
The groups called on Sereno to make sacrifices to preserve the judiciary as an independent institution.
“We, the entire force of the judiciary, which includes judges, officials and court employees under your leadership, are pleading you, our beloved Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno, to do the timely and necessary sacrifice for the institution that you gave so much time and love in these past year. We are calling for the benefit of the entire Filipino community, to step down,” the groups said in a statement read by SCEA president Erwin Ocson.
The groups said Sereno’s impeachment has resulted in a “distressing atmosphere” in the judiciary.
They said the situation was aggravated by the fact that the Court en banc has taken cognizance of the petition for quo warranto and ordered her to file her comment, instead of dismissing it outright.
“The Court can no longer endure a prolonged environment of this kind. Its officials and personnel, truly dedicated and conscientious public servants, cannot go through another set of hearings and go against each other again in the Senate,” the added.
PJA is Supreme Court-authorized association of regional trial court judges with about 1,200 incumbent members nationwide while PACE is a nationwide organization of court employees.
On Monday, judges and court employees also wore red to show their desire for Sereno to resign.
Ocson denied suggestions that they were pressured to call for Sereno’s resignation.
He said that as early as September last year, Sereno had already lost the support of the Court’s employees.
Among the grievances of the employees, he later said, was the slow pace of approval of their benefits and promotions, which caused demoralization among the rank-and-file employees.
Oscon said Sereno talked to them on Oct. 12 but nothing happened afterward.
Marikina RTC Judge Felix Reyes, one of the signatories of the statement, said 20 of the 30 PJA board members supported the move to call for Sereno’s resignation.
He also said that while Sereno has done many positive things, their call for her to resign was based on the larger picture, and for the good of the judiciary.
A reliable source, however, said some PJA members questioned the decision of the group to take a stand on the issue, saying they were not consulted on the matter.
Aside from impeachment, a quo warranto case has been filed against Sereno before the Supreme Court by Solicitor General Jose C. Calida seeking the nullification of her appointment as chief justice for her failure to comply with the requirements necessary for her to be eligible for the post.
Calida noted that Sereno failed to submit the 10 statements of assets, liabilities and networth (SALNs) required of her when she applied for the position of chief justice.
The Court has directed Sereno to answer the quo warranto petition within 10 days.
A women’s group, meanwhile, urged the government to allow the rule of law to prevail and the impeachment trial to proceed, and to stop “unconstitutional” attempts to remove Sereno from her post.
“We pray, and appeal to the leaders of our nation, that you, who ask its citizens to be law abiding, be the first to respect and follow the rule of law,” The Outstanding Women in the Nation’s Service said in a statement.
The Integrated Bar of the Philippines also said Sereno should be allowed to face an impeachment trial to “truly preserve the integrity of the Supreme Court.”
In an interview with GMA News, Domingo Egon Cayosa, vice chairman of the IBP said those who accused her of wrongdoing should follow the process and not resort to shortcuts.