Supreme Court dramas: Chief Justice Sereno vs. Assoc. Justice De Castro

A conflict seemed to be looming between Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno and Senior Assoc. Justice Teresita Leonardo De Castro.

In a memorandum that Senior Assoc. Justice Teresita Leonardo De Castro passed to all members of the high court on July 10, she enumerated her concerns regarding Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.

Assoc. Justice De Castro questioned the recent actions and decisions of Chief Justice Sereno. De Castro has asked the 15 members of the tribunal to look into the supposed arbitrary decision of Chief Justice Sereno to provide allowances for the staff working under her who are traveling abroad.

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De Castro pointed out as an example Sereno's grant to provide travel allowances to her staff lawyer, Ma. Lourdes Oliveros, as well as her other staff, charged to Supreme Court funds 

"The Chief Justice granted (Oliveros) foreign travel allowances charged to the Supreme Court funds without Court approval. The same is true with the foreign travel of the other staff in the OCJ," De Castro wrote in her memorandum.

De Castro also questioned Sereno's appointment of lawyer Brenda Jay Mendoza to head the Philippine Mediation Center of the Philippine Judicial Academy (Philja).

In the memorandum, De Castro said that Mendoza's appointment was done without the approval of all the justices. She added that the appointment was not even endorsed by Philja in violation of the court's administrative rules.

According to De Castro, Chief Justice Sereno and two other senior justices acted on their own in appointing  Mendoza to the post despite that existence of an administrative order which says it should have been a collegial decision of the court.

"No Philja resolution recommending Atty. Mendoza as PMC chief was submitted to the court for action unlike in the appointment of PMC chief Econg. Hence, Administrative Order No. 33-2008 was not allowed in the appointment of Atty. Mendoza... The Chief Justice submitted the said appointment to the two other Senior justices only," De Castro said, without naming the two other justices involved in the appointment.

"The Constitution vests upon the Supreme Court the power to 'appoint all officials and employees of the judiciary in accordance with the civil service laws,'" De Castro added, as stared in her 5-page memorandum.

"Hence, unless duly delegated by court resolution, the power to appoint court officials and employees can only be exercised by the court en banc," De Castro further argued.

In addition to the number of concerns that De Castro raised against Sereno is the "long delay in the filling up" of vacancies in senior posts of the high court. These job vacancies include Deputy Clerk of Court and Chief Attorney which have been vacant since October 30, 2013, and two posts for Assistant Court Administrators which have been vacant since January 10 and May 15 2013.

De Castro added that before the retirement of former Associate Justice Jose Perez, he requested Sereno "several times" to include the vacancies in the court agenda.

"The requests remained unheeded by the Chief Justice even up to now," she said.

De Castro concluded her memorandum by recommending four actions to address the concerns she raised. One of which asks the justices to "order the posting of the long-vacant positions and adopt guidelines to require expeditious posting and filling-up of vacant positions to serve the best interest of the service."

Sources: Inquirer & Rappler