Chief Justice Sereno goes back to work, to stay 'to the bitter end'

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 9) Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno was all smiles as she went back to work Wednesday, two months after taking an indefinite leave at the request of her fellow magistrates.

Sereno's camp shared a photo of the embattled chief justice doing paper work on her first day back in her office.

She went out of the Supreme Court building on Padre Faura Street in Manila at around 11 a.m. and waved at the crowd of mostly supporters and members of the media.

 

"She's smiling, happy to be back," said lawyer Jojo Lacanilao, one of Sereno's spokespersons.

"She is going to stay here to the bitter end," Lacanilao added, describing Sereno as "unfazed" despite two proceedings seeking her ouster: a quo warranto petition before the Supreme Court and a possible impeachment trial at the Senate.

Lacanilao said Sereno spoke with Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, who took over the chief justice post when Sereno went on leave on March 1 at the request of all 13 justices present in a February 27 en banc session.

But Lacanilao stressed, Sereno did not have to ask permission from anyone to return to work.

"She has all the right to come back.  She's still the Chief Justice," Lacanilao said, adding that Sereno was ready to fulfill her constitutional mandate as the country's top magistrate.

Despite President Rodrigo Duterte declaring himself an enemy of the Chief Justice and asking for her ouster, Malacañang on Wednesday said it will let the Supreme Court handle issues about Sereno.

"The Executive recognizes judicial independence and respects the separation of powers of the three branches of government, including a functioning judiciary," Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said in a statement.

Facing quo warranto

Sereno will preside over the High Court's en banc session on Friday, but will inhibit herself from deliberations on the ouster petition filed against her by Solicitor General Jose Calida, according to Lacanilao.

Her camp insisted that six associate justices - Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Francis Jardeleza, Noel Tijam, Samuel Martires, and Teresita Leonardo-de Castro - should also inhibit themselves from the case. Sereno earlier said these justices had  "manifested actual bias" against her during impeachment proceedings at the House Committee on Justice and the ouster hearing in the Supreme Court.

Her lawyers said Sereno would file a motion for reconsideration if the Supreme Court grants Calida's quo warranto petition.

The Solicitor General said that Sereno should be removed from office failing to file her Statements of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALNs) for ten years before applying for the Chief Justice post in 2012.

During the ouster proceedings on April 10, Sereno argued her case before her colleagues and said she would only present her SALNs before the Senate impeachment court.

Sereno has repeatedly said impeachment is the only way to remove a chief justice from office, asking lawmakers to "give me my day in the Senate impeachment court."

SALN issues also topped the articles of impeachment of the House justice committee report.  The panel impeached Sereno and the Lower House is set to vote on the complaint this month.  If the complaint is approved by one-third of the House, it will be brought to the Senate for an impeachment trial.

Carpio earlier said the Supreme Court justices would vote on the quo warranto petition against Sereno on May 17. A majority vote of the justices – or eight out of 14 – would grant the petition to oust Sereno.

CNN Philippines' Anjo Alimario contributed to this report.