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Judges, court employees call on Sereno to resign

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Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes P. A. Sereno speaks during an interview with BusinessWorld in this photo taken on February 16, 2018.

A GROUP of judges and four court employees’ organizations called on Monday for the Philippines’ Chief Justice to step down and make a “sacrifice” to restore peace and order in the Judiciary, a plea she strongly rejected.

Maria Lourdes P.A. Sereno, the first woman to head the 15-member Supreme Court, faces impeachment over accusations she concealed wealth by not filing asset declaration statements for several years before she was appointed.

Ms. Sereno, 57, refuses to quit amid what she calls bullying by “those in power,” which she says is threatening the independence of the Judiciary.

“It is time to let go. Please let the Judiciary move on,” says a statement from five groups seeking Ms. Sereno’s resignation, read during a Supreme Court flag-raising ceremony attended by several judges.

Ms. Sereno is disliked by President Rodrigo R. Duterte and has voted against several of his controversial proposals, including extending martial law in restive Mindanao, and allowing late dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos to have a grave at a cemetery for national heroes. The Supreme Court allowed both.

Mr. Duterte has accused her of being used by opponents who want to overthrow him, but he has denied having a hand in the impeachment of Ms. Sereno, who was appointed in 2012 by his predecessor, Benigno S.C. Aquino III.

The impeachment proceedings in Congress “have put the entire Judiciary in disrepute,” says the statement, read by the Supreme Court employees’ group head, Erwin D. Ocson.

The House justice committee last week found probable cause to impeach Ms. Sereno. She reiterated on Monday that she would not resign and said other judges had resisted pressure to join the campaign against her, so they could “maintain the dignity and independence of the Judiciary.”

“While the call to resign appeals to my love for the Judiciary, it is also out of love for the Judiciary that I must continue,” Ms. Sereno told reporters.

Also on Monday, Lorenzo G. Gadon, the lawyer who filed the impeachment complaint against Ms. Sereno, charged a number of her staff members and a tech consultant, Helen P. Macasaet, with graft, partly over the latter’s services.

On the same day, the man behind Ms. Sereno’s impeachment complaints — lawyer Lorenzo G. Gadon — kept his promise and filed graft complaints before the Department of Justice (DoJ) against the Chief Justice’s staff.

For his part, Presidential Spokesperson Herminio Harry L. Roque, Jr. said of Monday’s developments at the Supreme Court: “No one can force her to resign if she doesn’t want.” He added: “However, I think the sentiment even of the lower court judges have been made known, and we can only hope that the Chief Justice will take all these sentiments into consideration. But the decision to remain is hers to be made.” — Reuters with Arjay L. Balinbin