Chief Justice Sereno to go on leave as camp expects Senate impeachment trial

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Story updated to include statement of Atty. Larry Gadon.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 27) — Embattled Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno is taking a 15-day leave from the Supreme Court as her camp expects an impeachment trial at the Senate.

Sereno's spokesperson, Jojo Lacanilao told CNN Philippines on Tuesday the Chief Justice is taking a "wellness leave" from March 1 to 15. He said Sereno had initially filed a leave for March 12 to 23.

"Nag-apply na siya ng wellness leave matagal na rin ano, scheduled 'yun ng March. Nagkataon naman na dahil sa mga nangyayari ngayon sa impeachment and we expect na dadating ito sa Senado, kailangan din magprepare para sa Senate hearing," Lacanilao said.

[Translation: She applied for a wellness leave long ago, scheduled this March. It so happened that because of all that's happening, and we expect it will be brought to the Senate, we need to prepare for the Senate hearing.]

The announcement on Sereno's leave comes as the Supreme Court held an en banc session on Tuesday. The high court has yet to issue an official statement on what was tackled during the justices' meeting, but a source told CNN Philippines Sereno's leave was discussed.

Lacanilao said it was Sereno's "personal decision" to take a break and that it would be up to her if she wants to extend her leave.

House Justice Committee Chair Reynaldo Umali, however, belied Sereno camp's statement.

"Kasinungalingan ang sinasabi na wellness leave [The wellness leave they are saying is a lie]. It is indefinite leave because the en banc forced her into it," Umali said during Tuesday's hearing on probable cause in Sereno's impeachment case.

Sereno is taking a leave as the House committee on Justice is expected to vote next week on probable cause in the impeachment case against her. The panel will send a committee report to the plenary.

A vote of at least one-third of the members of the House of Representatives, or 98 out of the 292 incumbent congressmen, may then start an impeachment trial at the Senate.

Lacanilao said they expect the overwhelming majority in the House of Representatives to vote against the Chief Justice, as they have done in previous occasions.

"We're just being realistic about it. Realistically, mahirap manalo in terms of numbers [it's hard to win in terms of numbers] ," Lacanilao said.

The Chief Justice is accused of violating the Constitution, corruption, betrayal of public trust, and other high crimes - grounds for officials to be impeached under the Constitution.

The impeachment case prompted calls for the chief magistrate to resign.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, who earlier urged Sereno to resign, on Tuesday said Sereno should use her leave "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."

Roque said the Palace is confident Sereno's absence won't hamper the day-to-day operations of the high court.

Sereno repeatedly said she will not step down from office, as she has denied all allegations against her and asked for the impeachment complaint to be junked.

In a separate interview with CNN Philippines Chief Correspondent Pia Hontiveros Tuesday, Lacanilao added the Chief Justice would go through the impeachment process and "and whatever is the end of the process, she will abide by it."

Gadon: 'Explosive announcement' not related to Sereno

In the same interview, Atty. Larry Gadon was asked about the "explosive announcement" he would be revealing on Monday and it if was any way related to the impeachment case he filed against the Chief Justice.

Gadon answered, "I cannot recall that."

He added it was meant only for an "exclusive group."

 

Gadon clarified that he was involved in many things, the Sereno impeachment complaint was just one of them. He did, however, say it could be about charter change or about politics.

He went on to add that he expected the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) to discuss the discrepancies in Sereno's tax records during Tuesday's hearing,

"Because as the hearing turned out today, it was found out that she violated...she did not declare her income from PIATCO truthfully. And there are six violations on this. So that was the thing I was expecting," he said.

Lacanilao countered that most of the matters regarding the discrepancies were already beyond the prescriptive period under the Tax Code.

Another was that it was unfair for the the BIR to publish these in public without advising Sereno and asking her to explain.

"Everything we saw today is explainable. It's explicable. In fact, the BIR Deputy Commissioner said, Commissioner Guballa said that she basically substantially paid everything about the PIATCO income which is the basis of the complaint of Atty. Gadon. So where is the impeachment?" Lacanilao added.

CNN Philippines' Joyce Ilas and Anjo Alimario contributed to this report.