Palace to Sereno: Resign

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This photo taken on August 25, 2016 shows Supreme Court Chief Justice Lourdes Sereno listening to a question during a press conference in Manila. — AFP

MALACAÑANG on Monday, Nov. 06, called on Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes P.A. Sereno to resign and spare the Supreme Court from further “damage.”

That morning too, Ms. Sereno, addressing a forum, warned of a “resurgence of political forces threatening and harassing the independence of the judiciary.”

In his press briefing on Monday, Presidential Spokesperson Harry L. Roque Jr.said, “I call upon Chief Justice Sereno to consider resigning to spare the institution of damage.”

“I think it is high time now for Chief Justice to reexamine very carefully the effect of another removal to the institution itself. It cannot be that there will be a second instance that a sitting Chief Justice will be removed as a result of a decision of the Senate,” he added, in reference to the 2012 conviction by the Senate, sitting as an impeachment court, of Chief Justice Renato C. Corona, on charges of culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust.

“We cannot wait for that. If we were to wait for that, it is the finding of guilt that will undermine the independence of the judiciary,” Mr. Roque said.

Mr. Roque also recalled President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s earlier challenge for Ms. Sereno and Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales to resign with him.

“I challenge the two, we will go to Congress, in a simple ceremony, we sign the letter of resignation,” Mr. Duterte said on Oct. 2, during aspeech in Davao City.

Mr. Roque also responded to Ms. Sereno’s remarks that morning in a conference that she addressed, by the International Organization for Judicial Training.

“Certainly not. I do not know what Malacañang has done or at least the Executive has done to undermine independence of the judiciary,” Mr. Roque said, adding:

“She has only to blame herself if she feels that the impeachment proceeding has affected the independence of the judiciary.”

Ms. Sereno has been thrown a slew of charges at the House of Representatives including culpable violation of the Constitution, betrayal of public trust, and corruption.

Lawyer Josalee S. Deinla, a spokesperson of Ms. Sereno, emphasized in a separate forum that morning that the Chief Justice won’t attend (“Hindi sya dadalo.”) the ongoing impeachment proceedings against her before the House Committee on Justice.

“Siya na nga ang respondent, siya pa ang abogado para sa sarili niya? (She’s already the respondent, she’s also her own lawyer?) How can she effectively defend herself while fulfilling her duties as a chief justice kung siya pa rin lahat (if she has to do everything)?” Ms. Deinla said in part.

Later on Monday, Ms. Deinla was also sought for comment regarding Mr. Roque’s remarks and she said, “ We would like to remind Atty. Roque that he is now already speaking for the President and no longer just for himself. Didn’t the President say earlier that (he) will be “hands off” and have nothing to do with the impeachment?”

“It would be prudent for Atty. Roque not to prejudge the case and let it run its course in accordance with the Constitution. After all-Atty. Roque as one of the endorsers of the complaint knows this very well-the case will soon be deliberated upon at the House Committee on Justice where the rights of the Chief Justice as respondent ought to be respected.”

“At any rate, Atty. Roque’s statements are premature and misdirected as it is the Chief Justice’s accusers who are inflicting damage to the Supreme Court. The Chief Justice remains unfazed by the false accusations against her and is as resolved as ever to keep serving the people at the helm of the Judiciary,” Ms. Deinla also said.

Another spokesperson for Ms. Sereno, lawyer Carlo L. Cruz, said when sought for comment: “As previously declared, resignation has never been an option. The CJ needs to face the impeachment proceeding precisely to preserve the dignity and independence of both the Supreme Court and the Office of the Chief Justice.”

“She has done nothing to ‘damage’ the institution, and she has been doing everything to strengthen it,” he added.

Also sought for comment regarding Mr. Roque’s remarks, lawyer Antonio G.M. La Viña, former dean of the Ateneo School of Government, said in a text message: “There is no legal issue regarding a co-equal branch of government calling for the head of another branch to resign. But there is a question of propriety for the head of the executive branch to that, given that the President has a lot of power.”

“President-led impeachment is wrong in my view and distorts the system of constitutional accountability. Unfortunately, President Aquino did that twice with (resigned Ombudsman Ma. Merceditas N.) Gutierrez and (the late Mr.) Corona. Now, President Duterte is doing it. It’s time to (put) the genie of impeachment back into the bottle,” Mr. La Viña added. — Rosemarie A. Zamora, with Andrea Louise E. San Juan