WHAT we know about the circumstances surrounding Supreme Court Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno taking a “wellness” leave is still blurry, which is why speculations are still being thrown everywhere. The official line, as stated by Sereno’s spokesperson Jojo Lacanilao, was that the chief justice went on a “wellness leave” to prepare for the inevitable impeachment trial in the Senate.
However, A GMA News report quoting Supreme Court Deputy Clerk of Court Anna-Li Papa Gombio said what Sereno filed was an “indefinite leave.” Part of a letter sent by Sereno to Gombio’s office said, “On the matter of my leave, please take note that due to the demands of the Senate trial where I intend to fully set out my defenses to the baseless charges, I will take an indefinite leave.”
Sereno noted, however, that the “indefinite leave” though would be charged to her “wellness leave.” So it’s both an “indefinite leave” and a “wellness leave.”
The question of whether what Sereno filed was a “wellness leave” or an “indefinite leave” arose from information dug up by some media outlets from sources who wouldn’t speak officially that Sereno was forced to take an “indefinite leave” because majority of the SC justices has lost confidence in her. A Rappler.com report painted a picture of a heated en banc session last Tuesday.
“Wellness leave” is supposedly voluntary. “Indefinite leave” is forced.
Can Supreme Court associate justices force a chief justice to go on leave or even resign. I am not a lawyer so I leave fellow columnists who are also lawyers to answer that. Suffice it to say that Sereno’s position, as enunciated by her spokesperson, is that the associate justices couldn’t do that. “Nobody can force her to go on indefinite leave. Nobody can force her to resign because those would be unconstitutional,” Lacanilao said.
But it looks like Sereno is headed to the path former Commission on Elections (Comelec) chairman Andres Bautista followed. Bautista was accused by his wife Patricia of amassing wealth when he was with the Presidential Commission on Good Government and with the Comelec. An impeachment complaint was filed against him with the House of Representatives. Six Comelec commissioners then told him to either take a leave of absence or resign. He eventually resigned even as the House impeached him.
Sereno has vowed to fight her inevitable impeachment all the way to the Senate acting as an impeachment court. But if the report of a “heated” SC en banc session that supposedly focused on Sereno’s failure to explain her missing Statement of Assets Liabilities and Net Worth is true, then her defense would be weakened considerably. The “Bautista option” would loom large for her.
What is happening to Sereno, and previously Bautista, is classic divide-and-rule, or in this case, divide-and-force-a-resignation. Like what the great Abraham Lincoln said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Sereno, like Bautista, could eventually fall. But the blame can’t be heaped only on the justices who allowed the SC to be toyed by co-equal branches of the government. Sereno can also be blamed for failing as an SC leader.