A Supreme Court (SC) magistrate has called for a review of the administrative orders which were issued by Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno allegedly without the approval of the court en banc.
Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo De Castro, in a memorandum circulated among members of the 15-man high court on July 10, took issue with the appointment of Atty. Brenda Jay Mendoza in June 2016 as chief of the Philippine Mediation Center Office under the Philippine Judicial Academy.
De Castro said Mendoza’s appointment was approved by Sereno and two other senior magistrates through a memorandum that was not referred to the collegial body for its consideration.
"Please note that the memorandum does not mention the name of the applicant to the position recommended by the Philippine Judicial Academy. No Philja board resolution recommending Atty. Mendoza as PMC chief was submitted to the Court for action unlike in the appointment of PMC chief [Geraldine] Econg. Hence, Administrative Order No. 33-2008 was not followed in the appointment of Atty. Mendoza,” De Castro said.
She also slammed the top magistrate for granting to members of her staff travel allowance for foreign travel "without the requisite Court en banc approval, which every justice has to secure to be authorized to travel abroad on official business."
Specifically, De Castro noted the "frequent foreign travels" of Sereno's staff, Atty. Maria Lourdes Oliveros, "purportedly with funding support for 'airfare, accommodation and other related travel expenses' from the host or organizers of the travel as approved by the Chief Justice and two Division Chairpersons."
"However, the Chief Justice granted said OCJ [Office of the Chief Justice] staff foreign travel allowances charged to Supreme Court funds without Court approval. The same is true with the foreign travel of the other staff of the OCJ," De Castro said.
“The Court has not delegated its power to approve authority to travel abroad on ‘official business’ of court officials and personnel which entitles them to their salaries per diems and allowances as distinguished from ‘official time,’ which entitles those concerned only to their salaries for the duration of the authorized travel abroad,” the memorandum stated.
She asked the Court to "impose compliance with the requisite Court resolution approving foreign travel of court officials and personnel on official business -- before the expenditure of Supreme Court funds is authorized for said travel."
De Castro also expressed concern about the delays in filling up key positions in the judiciary.
She said the posts of SC deputy clerk of court and chief attorney have been vacant for three years and eight months already.
The two positions for assistant court administrator, meanwhile, have been vacant for four years and six months.
De Castro said then Associate Justice Jose Perez raised the issue about the vacancies prior to his retirement in December 2016 but the "request remained unheeded by the Chief Justice even up to now."
With this, De Castro asked the Court to address "the long delay in the filling up of the key positions in the Court which is prejudicial to the best interest of the service.”
It was not immediately clear whether Sereno has already responded to De Castro's memorandum.
This was not the first time De Castro called out Sereno's handling of the affairs of the judiciary.
Five years ago, De Castro criticized the top magistrate over the re-opening of the Regional Court Administration Office (RCAO) in Cebu without the approval of 14 other justices.
The Court revoked Sereno's administrative order in December 2012, as the justices noted there was no pilot testing or study conducted showing the scope of powers of the Office of the Court of Administrator which will be transferred to RCAO.
De Castro had also protested Sereno's issuance of an order preventing the Commission on Elections (Comelec) from proclaiming the five remaining winners of the party-list race in the May 2013 elections due to the petitions of groups questioning their disqualification before the high court.
She said her recommendation was to only restrain the implementation of the Comelec resolution against party-list group Senior Citizens, whose accreditation was denied by the poll body because of a term-sharing agreement for its two sets of nominees.
The Court then stepped in and decided to allow Comelec to virtually proceed with the proclamation of other groups and reserve seats for Senior Citizens pending resolution on its appeal.
The SC eventually overturned Comelec's disqualification of Senior Citizens and ordered its proclamation as winning party-list group.