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Breach of confidentiality has been committed by some members of the Supreme Court (SC) en banc against Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.

This statement comes from one of Sereno's spokespersons Josa Deinla.

Deinla is reacting to reports that the real reason why Sereno is going on an indefinite leave is because her fellow justices forced her to do it.

"We are saddened by the fact that the confidentiality of the en banc sessions has been breached," Deinla said.

There are reports the magistrates even conducted voting on this matter and that majority of the justices had wanted Sereno to take an indefinite leave.

This is pending the impeachment hearings against Sereno in the House of Representatives.

House Justice Committee Chairperson Reynaldo Umali says, he received text messages from two justices telling him about Sereno's leave.

The chief justice will take a break beginning tomorrow.

Sereno's counsel, Attorney Jojo Lacanilao, initially said his client was going on a "wellness" leave.

This will last for 15 days.

This was supposedly so that she can prepare for an expected impeachment trial.

Umali, however, said the true reason for the vacation is because the other justices had compelled Sereno to take an indefinite break.

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Supreme Court (SC) Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno is taking an indefinite leave.

This is what is contained in her leave form submitted to SC Clerk of Court.

Sereno is availing of her wellness leave, which is a 15-day vacation for justices.

It is not stated when Sereno will be back for work.

Her counsel, Attorney Jojo Lacanilao, says the chief magistrate will use the period to prepare for the impeachment trial in the Senate which she already expects.

Lacanilao stresses, the leave will not end in a resignation.

House Justice Committee Chairman and Oriental Mindoro Representative Reynaldo Umali says, the committee members will cast their votes on March 7.

This is to determine whether or not there is probable cause to impeach Sereno.

Should the panel uphold the impeachment, Umali eyes the third week of March as the period for submission of the committee report to the plenary

CHIEF Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno announced Tuesday she would go on indefinite leave after her colleagues in the Supreme Court asked her to resign and confronted her about issues raised against her in the impeachment hearings at the House of Representatives.

Court insiders said there was a confrontation in the en banc session in which some of the justices questioned her eligibility for the position following revelations that she failed to submit all her Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth as required by the Judicial and Bar Council before her appointment in 2012.

“She was asked to resign. One of the justices even dared her to submit their resignation together,” one court insider said.

Sereno refused to resign and instead said she was willing to take a wellness or vacation leave while the Senate finished her impeachment trial.

Most of the justices, however, rejected Sereno’s offer and held an executive session without her to discuss her case.

Sereno then asked to meet with two of the most senior members of the Supreme Court, Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr.

“After the meeting, she announced that she will take an indefinite leave,” one source said.

Sereno’s spokespersons, however, later announced that the chief justice was merely taking a “wellness leave” from March 1 to 15 and denied reports that she was forced to go on indefinite leave.w

“The chief justice is going on a wellness leave, something she has filed for long before. It was supposed to be from March 12 to 23, but it will now be from March 1 to 15,” said Jojo Lacanilao, one of Sereno’s spokespersons.

“The leave is her personal decision. There’s nothing to show based on records that she was forced to take a leave,” he added.

But another spokesperson, Josa Deinla, said it was “lamentable how sessions [in the Supreme Court] are no longer confidential,” giving credence to reports of the confrontation.

Sereno’s decision to go on leave came on the last day of hearings at the House on the impeachment complaint filed against her by lawyer Lorenzo Gadon.

She also made the decision after an open letter from “concerned officials and personnel of the Supreme Court” calling for her immediate resignation circulated in the Supreme Court Monday.

The unsigned letter specifically called on Sereno to resign “considering the evidence revealed and testimonies given during the impeachment hearings.”

“We hereby manifest our loss of trust, faith and confidence in Your Honor, Chief Justice Sereno, and call on your honor to resign now from your honor’s position as chief justice of the Supreme Court,” part of the three-page letter said.

“We can and will no longer remain silent as the institution falls deeper into disrepute with each passing day and our officers and personnel pitted against one another, as a consequence of your honor’s actions and indiscretions,” it added.

Last week, the justices tackled the SALN issue against Sereno and decided in session to require her and regular members and officers of the Judicial and Bar Council to answer the letter.

Also covered by the order were JBC members Jose Mejia and Ma. Milagros Fernan-Cayosa, former members retired Justices Aurora Lagman and Regino Hermosisima Jr., executive officer Annaliza Ty-Capacite, and former chief of office of selection and nomination, now Judge Richard Pascual.

In its two-page letter, the House justice committee asked the Court to take “appropriate action” on the preliminary finding in the impeachment proceedings that Sereno supposedly did not comply with the 10-year SALN requirements for her chief justice application.

Among the documents forwarded to the Court were certifications issued by the University of the Philippines and the Office of the Ombudsman showing that Sereno only filed SALNs in 2009, 2010 and 2011 before to her appointment as chief justice.

The letter was addressed to Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and other associate justices of the Court.

In their earlier testimonies before the House panel, Associate Justices Diosdado Peralta and Teresita Leonardo-De Castro assailed Sereno for her failure to meet the documentary requirement during her application for the chief justice post to replace ousted Chief Justice Renato Corona.

Peralta said this development puts into question the legitimacy of Sereno’s appointment as chief justice, which he said could be considered “void website from the start.”

De Castro said it was “great injustice” to other nominees for the chief justice post knowing that the one appointed by then President Benigno Aquino III was actually not qualified due to incomplete requirements.

De Castro even suggested that the JBC regular members could be held liable for violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act for including Sereno in the shortlist for the Court’s vacancy.

A Palace spokesman said they were confident Sereno’s leave would not affect the day-to-day operations of the Court.

“As the chief justice takes her wellness leave, we hope she would take this as an opportunity to reflect on her time and legacy at the Supreme Court and to consider what would be best for the institution which she heads as top magistrate,” Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said.

Senator Panfilo Lacson said he saw nothing irregular about Sereno’s decision to go on leave, and said she could use the time to prepare for her defense for the impeachment trial at the Senate, which he said was almost inevitable.

Senator Paolo Benigno Aquino IV said a leave is a personal prerogative, and said it was difficult to talk about Sereno’s impeachment case because senators will sit as judges if her impeachment trial pushes through.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said that as a lawyer and a former secretary of justice, he was saddened by what is happening in the Supreme Court, with all the rumblings and the infighting.

“I don’t feel good about this. I feel sad at the state of things; the fight between the justices becomes part of the public domain,” he said.

Drilon said he has been a lawyer for almost 50 years and this is the first time that he witnessed this kind of discord in the Supreme Court.

“I’m sure like any organization, there are intrigues, but it’s always been kept under wraps,” he said.

Senator Antonio Trillanes IV said Sereno went on leave and did not resign, so “there’s no political victory yet” for the administration, which has been vocal about her ouster.

Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III cautioned against reading too much into Sereno’s decision to go on leave.

Pimentel has already approved the ordering of robes to be worn by the senator-judges, and directed the Senate lawyers to finalize the rules of the impeachment trial.

The chairman of the House committee on justice dismissed as “lies” the claim that Sereno went on a “wellness leave” and said it was the Supreme Court en banc that compelled her to go on leave.

“This is a blatant lie; [the camp of Sereno] is peddling lies. The supposed wellness leave is an indefinite leave,” Umali said during Tuesday’s impeachment hearing. “Majority, if not all of en banc, forced her to go on leave.”

“We are fed up with lies. We are fed up with deception,” Umali added.

The panel on Tuesday ordered the JBC to submit the psychological evaluation conducted on Sereno when she applied for the post on pain of possible contempt citation if they fail to do so.

At the resumption of the impeachment hearings, Umali issued the the directive after JBC member and lawyer Maria Milagros Fernan-Cayosa said the JBC rules have always treated as “strictly confidential” the results of the psychological evaluation of applicants to a judicial post.

The House justice panel threatened to cite in contempt the JBC members should they fail to submit copies of psychological and psychiatric test results of Sereno when she was applying for the post in 2012.

Umali said that as a “constitutional body,” the impeachment panel has the power to compel the production of evidence after JBC officials stonewalled on the submission of the documents, saying that the matter was also before the Supreme Court.

“This is now the impeachment committee issuing this directive requiring you to submit [those records]. …. Please comply lest we would be constrained to cite the members of the council in contempt if you fail to heed this request by this impeachment committee,” Umali said.

He added that when Sereno allowed herself to be subjected to psychological evaluation as a requirement of the JBC for all applicants to judicial posts, she was not actually a patient and thus was not covered by any doctor-patient confidentiality rule.

Two of the psychiatrists who conducted the psychological tests on Sereno, Dr. Genuina Ranoy and Dr. Dulce Lizza Sahagun, said they do not have a copy of the results of the test they did on Sereno.

“We do not keep any copy of evaluation reports that we did when we were in the Judicial and Bar Council,” Ranoy said.

At the same hearing, a top official of the Bureau of Internal Revenue said Sereno posted an estimated P2.014 million in tax liabilities from 2004 to 2009.

Based on the preliminary findings of the BIR, Internal Revenue Deputy Commissioner Arnel Guballa told the committee that the alleged basic deficiency taxes stemmed from Sereno’s supposed under-declarations in her earnings as government counsel in arbitration proceedings against the Philippine International Air Terminals Co. Inc., builder of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3. The BIR said Sereno earned over P32.49 million in lawyer’s fees for her work in the Piatco.

Guballa said the chief justice could have violated the Tax Code six times, saying the tax liabilities amounted to P2 million including interest and surcharges. With Vito Barcelo

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