SC justices warn Sereno spokespersons over ‘damaging’ statements

MANILA, Philippines – Thirteen (13) justices of the Supreme Court (SC) warned on Thursday, March 1, the spokespersons of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno for making announcements which they said “seriously damaged the integrity of the judiciary.”

“This matter shall be dealt with in a separate proceeding," said 13 justices in a joint statement released on Thursday. The 13 justices are the entirety of the en banc, with the exception of Sereno, and Associate Justice Benjamin Caguioa who was already on leave.

The 13 justices took a unified stance Thursday to contradict the statement of Sereno’s spokespersons that the Chief Justice was just taking her prior-scheduled wellness leave earlier.

"The Chief Justice herself announced that she was taking an indefinite leave, with the amendment that she start the leave early on Thursday, March 1, 2018. The Chief Justice did not request the rescheduling of her wellness leave," said the 13 justices. (READ: Why SC justices forced Sereno to go on leave)

“The court en banc regrets the confusion that the announcements and media releases of the spokespersons of the Chief Justice have caused, which seriously damaged the integrity of the Judiciary in general and the Supreme Court in particular,” the statement said.

The 13 justices said they expected Sereno to announce only what was agreed upon “without any modification or embellishment.”

Responding to this, Sereno’s spokesperson Jojo Lacanilao said: "We apologize for any confusion we have caused in the last few days but we were working on available information. CJ Sereno will issue official statement later."

Let's trace the statements beginning with Tuesday, February 27.


TUESDAY, February 27

- 10 am: The 14 justices, except Caguioa who was on leave, meet for their weekly en banc session.

- Noon: Lacanilao announces to the reporters covering the impeachment hearing at the House of Representatives that Sereno will be taking a wellness leave earlier than scheduled.

This reporter gets information from reliable sources from inside the Court that it is not a wellness leave but an “indefinite leave as requested by the en banc.” We report the disparity.

Throughout the day, we were able to get reliable information on how the en banc forced Sereno to go on an indefinite leave,

- Night time: Sereno sends a letter to the SC en banc addressed to Deputy Clerk of Court Anna-Li Papa Gombio. In the letter, Sereno says she will “take an indefinite leave, a portion of which shall be charged against my wellness leave originally from March 12-23, 2018 to March 1 to 15, 2018.”

This is the letter of leave that CJ Sereno sent to the en banc. She mentions that the period of March 1-15 of her indefinite leave shall be charged to to her scheduled March 12-23 wellness leave. — Lian Buan (@lianbuan) February 28, 2018

 WEDNESDAY, February 28

- Morning: Lacanilao and another Sereno spokesperson Josa Deinla show Sereno’s letter to the media in a press conference. Lacanilao confirmed it was sent to the en banc Tuesday night. 

Lacanilao and Deinla insist Sereno was taking a wellness leave earlier than previously scheduled.

“Yung kanyang desisyon na mag-leave, noon pa yan eh (she had long decided to go on leave), but she found it very opportune to advance that leave beginning March 1 so she can prepare,” Deinla said.

- Afternoon: The 13 justices prepare their joint statement.


On the first day of Sereno’s leave, SC Spokesman Theodore Te calls for a press conference in the morning to read the statement of the 13 justices.

The joint statement also says it was the “consensus” of the en banc that Sereno should go on leave, addressing speculations that only a number of justices wanted her to do so.

The fissures inside the High Court continues with this latest development.

There is also a question of whether there is legal basis to force the Chief Justice to take a leave.

LOOK: Statement of the 13 Supreme Court justices — Lian Buan (@lianbuan) March 1, 2018

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email or tweet @lianbuan.