Chief Justice's camp appeals to 8 justices to 'do the right thing'

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 10) — Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno's camp is appealing to eight Supreme Court associate justices to oppose an ouster petition against her.

"We would rather focus our attention in making a plea, an urgent one, to the eight — for them to please do the right thing," Sereno's spokesperson Carlo Cruz told CNN Philippines' The Source.

Sereno's camp previously filed petitions for six associate justices to inhibit from the case. These are Lucas Bersamin, Teresita de Castro, Francis Jardeleza, Samuel Martires, Diosdado Peralta, and Noel Tijam.

This leaves eight justices to whom she is making the appeal — Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa, Antonio Carpio, Mariano Del Castillo, Alexander Gesmundo, Marvic Leonen, Estela Perlas-Bernabe, Andres Reyes, and Presbitero Velasco.

Sereno needs eight out of 14 votes to remain in office.

The appeal comes a day before the Supreme Court's scheduled en banc session on Friday. The court is expected to discuss and possibly vote on the pending quo warranto case against Sereno, which seeks to invalidate her appointment as Chief Justice.

The possible court action may further interpet Rule 66, Section 11 of the Rules of Court. It provides that quo warranto petitions can only be effective within a year "after the cause of such ouster, or the right of the petitioner to hold such office or position, arose."

Solicitor General Jose Calida filed the quo warranto in March this year. He questioned Sereno's appointment in 2012, citing missing statements of assets, liabilities, and net worth (SALNs) from her years teaching as a law professor at the University of the Philippines.

Sereno has maintained that an impeachment trial at the Senate is the only way to unseat her. The House of Representatives is poised to act the impeachment complaint against her, but this may be preempted by a quo warranto decision.

If that happens, Cruz says Sereno would accept the decision even as she disagrees with it.

"If there were a final decision ousting her via this mode, then we would have to respect it," said Cruz. "But if we leave that office, it would be with our heads held high and our hearts whole-because even if we would have lost, we would have won."

House Justice Committee Chair Rey Umali maintains that despite Rule 66, the House would respect the Supreme Court's interpretation of the law.

"We in Congress, while we have the power to impeach, are not removing that power (from) the Supreme Court to act on and take jurisdiction on the quo warranto case," he told The Source.

Umali's opinion differs from his colleagues in the Senate, who prefer that an impeachment case be brought to them.

En banc session will be 'awkward'

Umali said Sereno's return to the Supreme Court on Wednesday was a "publicity stunt" and a "wrong move." He maintained that the justices' 13-0 resolution to have her go on indefinite leave still stood, and she should have filed an appeal.

"I think this will probably add to the votes that will be had come Friday," said Umali.

However, Cruz pointed out there was no formal restrictions that prevented Sereno from returning to work.

"If that consensus were to be construed as a directive, decision, or an order, she would have been placed as preventive suspension, or she would have been effectively ousted," said Cruz.

"What I consider would be unprecedented would be for a person to first ask for permission to go on indefinite leave and then ask permission again to return. It is a matter of personal choice," he added.

Sereno has since said she would inhibit from discussing her case. However, Umali believes it would be "awkward for the Chief Justice" if she did not step out during this discussion.

"You're there languishing on whatever they will talk about," said Umali.

Cruz said Sereno need not be present throughout the discussion, but "if she chooses to stay, she is entitled."

"Let us say there are 50 items on the agenda," he said. "Are you telling me for every matter that there is a recusal, the one who inhibits will have to step out?"

Sereno has voted against some of President Rodrigo Duterte's decisions, including extended martial law in Mindanao and the burial of late President Ferdinand Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani. Duterte's critics believe the move to oust her is clampdown on the judiciary.

Watch the full interview with Cruz and Umali here.