Judges and court employees on Monday rallied behind the May 11 decision of the Supreme Court to boot Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno out of office, even as the ousted magistrate clung to the hope of a reversal of the ruling against her.
Again wearing red during the flag ceremony Monday, judges and court employees urged the public to respect the Supreme Court decision to grant the quo warranto petition filed by Solicitor General Jose Calida and nullify Sereno’s appointment in 2012.
“The Supreme Court has spoken. Let us accept this decision with full respect and compliance. Let us follow the rule of law,” the organizations of judges and court employees said, in a joint statement read during the flag ceremony.
“The interpretation and application of the Constitution, laws, and rules exclusively belong to the Supreme Court. Not to the Executive Department. Not to Congress. Not to media. Not to the practicing lawyers and law students. Not to the clergy. Not even to the people,” they said.
The groups also expressed support for the 14 magistrates of the Court who voted 8-6 to remove Sereno, whom they earlier asked to resign to spare the judiciary of further damage from the ouster cases against her.
“We believe that our 14 justices were able to demonstrate their freedom to decide and vote, either for the majority or minority... The existence of the six dissenting opinions only showed that the overall decision of the High Court went through deep and extensive discussion and process,” they said.
“The interpretation and application of the Constitution, laws and rules exclusively belong to the Supreme Court... And the justices of the Court must be free to decide impartially, in accordance with the proven facts and the applicable law, inspired conscience, without regard to what the people may desire, and without fear or reprisal, intimidation, threats of impeachment, corrupting influence of political groups and other unworthy motives. This is the real essence of judicial independence,” they added.
The judges and court employees also pointed out that while the decision was immediately executory, Sereno may still file a motion for reconsideration, which the justices could still resolve as mandated by the Constitution.
Sereno’s camp is expected to file the motion on May 30 when the 15-day period for filing an appeal lapses.
The judges and employees called on the critics of the Court and the public to be responsible in their statements.
“We respect the freedom of speech of everyone, but all of this has its limit. It does not include threatening, disrespecting and shaming of justices and efforts to weaken the whole of the Supreme Court. We will fight those who will try to divide or weaken it,” they said.
The statement entitled “One Supreme Court... Move Forward!” was signed by Judge Felix Reyes, president of Philippine Judges Association; Maria Fe Maloloy-On, president of Philippine Association of Court Employees; Rene Enciso, president of Supreme Court Assembly of Lawyer Employees; and Erwin Ocson, president of SC Employees Association.
The same groups earlier staged “Red Monday” protests and called on Sereno to resign to insulate the judiciary from her ouster cases.
In an interview, Ocson said it is time for the Court to move forward from the episode of Sereno’s ouster and for court personnel to stand together to protect judicial independence.
“Our statement today is a statement of unity. We may have been divided on the impeachment issue against Chief Justice Sereno that ended up in this quo warranto case, [but] in the end we have to stand together,” he said.
Meanwhile, SC spokesperson Theodore Te was asked to resign by anti-corruption groups Citizens’ Crime Watch and Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption following Sereno’s ouster.
Lawyer Ferdinand Topacio, counsel for CCW and VACC who led their members in holding a rally of support outside the SC compound for the eight magistrates who voted to oust Sereno, urged Te to have delicadeza and leave his post after he criticized the Court’s ruling by posting “I dissent!” on his Twitter account.
“Who is he to dissent when he is the spokesman of the Court? He speaks for the Court so he should not intersect his own opinion. He should resign immediately,” Topacio demanded.
“He has no business being spokesperson if he does not support the Supreme Court... You’re supposed to speak for the majority [(of justices]—not for the chief justice and not for the minority... If you cannot abide by the decision of the institution that you’re supposed to speak for, you should resign,” Topacio said.
Te has not responded when asked for comment on the resignation call.
Sereno and her supporters have repeatedly criticized the quo warranto ruling, accusing those who voted in favor of it of bias and engaging in politics following President Rodrigo Duterte’s public pronouncements against her.
The case stemmed from Sereno’s non-filing of Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth for 11 years during her stint at the University of the Philippines’ College of Law and her failure to comply with the Judicial and Bar Council’s mandatory requirement for submission of 10 SALNs for applicants to the top judicial post in 2012.
Sereno has 15 days to file a motion for reconsideration. Should she fail to do so, the decision becomes final and the JBC can then open the period of applications and nominations for the chief justice post.
Opposition Senator Francis Pangilinan, meanwhile, said some senators wanted to convene an impeachment court, not to try the case against Sereno, but to render an opinion against the quo warranto decision that ousted her.
“As an impeachment court, if you ask me, we are supreme in our power to remove and this is unprecedented,” he said.
He admitted, though, that the minority did not have the numbers to act on the proposal.
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