Justice questions Sereno’s ruling anew

Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno

MANILA — For the second time in five months, Senior Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo-de Castro is questioning Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno.

This time, it was Sereno’s ruling issued on Wednesday, while the high tribunal was in recess, stopping the Commission on Elections (Comelec) from proclaiming the five remaining winners of the May 13 polling in the party-list system until the disqualification protest of the Coalition of Senior Citizens in the Philippines has been resolved.

In a letter, also on Wednesday, to Sereno, a copy of which was obtained by the Inquirer, De Castro rued that her recommendation—that the Comelec be restrained from implementing its May 10 resolution nullifying the Senior Citizens’ participation in the balloting on grounds it violated the rule on term-sharing of allotted seats in the House of Representatives—was disregarded by the Chief Justice.

De Castro, who was tasked to handle the petition for relief from the court by the Senior Citizens’ group on May 14, said Sereno’s blanket TRO instead adversely covered the remaining winners in the party-list balloting who were not impleaded in the case.

In a two-page letter on Thursday in reply to De Castro, also secured by the Inquirer, Sereno said she took the TRO course because she believed the court en banc must collectively make the decision whether to restrain or not the implementation of the Comelec resolution.

Sereno also said the concerned party-list groups would not suffer irreparable injury because the full court was expected to meet on the matter on June 4, when it resumes its session.

She said it was her “interpretation” that the TRO she issued would prevent irreparable injury in a way that “no vacancy is left for the Senior Citizens Party.”

Sereno pointed out that the Senior Citizens had garnered more than 600,000 votes and could be entitled to two or three congressional seats.

Avoiding controversies

She pointed out the view of Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. that the reversal of the Comelec resolution could mean dropping proclaimed winners.

The Chief Justice said Associate Justice Bienvenido Reyes concurred with her TRO.

Sereno said if she took De Castro’s recommendation, she feared Senior Citizens might ask Comelec to declare it the winner, considering its huge vote.

“Whatever option is chosen, a lot of controversies and confusion would be generated,” she said, adding it was “best” that the full court “and not the Chief Justice alone, make the evaluation of the Comelec resolution.”

Sereno said there was still time for the full court to act on the petition because the election winners will assume office only on July 1.

In December last year, De Castro asked Sereno to recall or amend an order creating a regional consultative administrative office in Cebu because it did not have the approval of the full court.

The Chief Justice effectively revoked her order by creating a study committee that would look into the decentralization of the court’s administrative functions.

Sereno, 52, was the most junior member of the Supreme Court when she was appointed Chief Justice by President Aquino following the ouster a year ago of Chief Justice Renato Corona for his failure to declare his bank accounts in his statements of assets and liabilities. Her swearing in was boycotted by senior justices of the high tribunal.

Irreparable injury

In her letter to Sereno, De Castro insisted that the Senior Citizens could suffer irreparable injury “if its disqualification as a party-list association, on a ground concerning its nominees, is not enjoined pending resolution of this petition on the merits.”

“It is my position that the proper subject of the TRO is the enjoinment of the implementation of the assailed Comelec resolution with respect to the Senior Citizens,” she said, noting that this matter was after all the “main cause of action brought before us by the petitioner.”

De Castro stressed that the issue for the court to decide was “whether or not the term-sharing agreement of nominees will call for the disqualification of the party-list association itself.”

Unfairly affected

De Castro said she “deliberately limited” the TRO coverage to the Senior Citizens because “(a) issuing a blanket injunction against the proclamation of the remaining seats in the party-list system may adversely affect third parties not impleaded in the present case in violation of their right to due process, and (b) such blanket injunction might be deemed as an overbroad restriction on the constitutional authority of the Comelec to proclaim winners in the party-list elections, beyond what is necessary in the present case.”

While there was “merit” in Sereno’s observation that the other party-list candidates could be affected by the continued proclamation of winners, De Castro said such a situation was “only an extraneous issue and merely anticipatory.”

“The court is mandated to grant relief only to parties involved in actual controversies who file the proper action before us,” she said.

De Castro said Sereno “radically changed my recommended action that would have preserved the status quo ante, i.e., maintain the petitioner in the registry of party-list associations, pending disposition of the merits of the case.”