Delay in release of survivorship benefits not because of the Chief Justice - lawyers

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 15) — The lawyers of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno said the House panel's discussion on the delay in the release of survivorship benefits is "irrelevant to the charges" against the top magistrate.

"It covered actions by the (technical working group) that evaluates cases and merely recommends decisions to the Supreme Court en banc. Throughout the discussion, there was no evidence or indication that the Chief Justice tried to control or influence the TWG work in any way," Sereno's lawyers said.

Court Administrator Midas Marquez earlier said dozens of retired justices and judges or their surviving spouses were denied the timely release of their benefits due to the special committee and technical working groups created by the Chief Justice.

In December, the lawyers of Sereno said the new system provided for a "significant improvement in the speed, efficiency, and consistency in the processing of petitions for retirement benefits."

READ: Court Administrator: Groups formed by Sereno created delay in judges' benefits

"The fact is she did not need to interfere because all of the TWG's recommendations would have to be taken up by the Supreme Court en banc," Sereno's lawyers said on Monday.

The House Justice panel resumed the proceedings to determine if there is probable cause to impeach the Chief Justice. Three justices - Associate Justices Samuel Martires, Diosdado Peralta, and Lucas Bersamin - testified before the House panel.

Representative Romeo Acop also said he was trying to find out if the delay can be attributed to the Chief Justice.

"If we read the verified answer of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, babagsak po ito lahat sa special committee on retirements and civil service benefits, unless we can impute malice on the creation of the special committee. But how can we impute malice when this was created and signed by three senior justices?" Acop said.

(Translation: If we read the verified answer of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, it will all boil down to the special committee on retirements and civil service benefits.)

The discussion led to suggestions that the High Court just dissolve the TWG, and return the processing of survivorship benefits to the Office of the Court Administrator.

"It can be dissolved any time because it is just the creation of the Chief Justice and two senior justices. I think they are already aware of the problems. If you ask me what should they do, I would suggest it should already be dissolved," Peralta said.

Martires said the TWG should have broadened its understanding of the law, which could have paved the way for the faster release of the benefits.

"Kung nilawakan lang kasi nila ang pananaw sa batas, binigyan nila ng interpretasyon na pabor sa claimants. After all yung pera na ibibigay naman sa mga claimants hindi naman mangagaling sa kanilang mga bulsa, eh dapat sana nung araw pa natapos na ang usapin na ito, hindi na sana umabot sa akin," Martires, appointed by President Rodrigo Duterte on March 2017, said.

(Translation: If they just broadened their understanding of the law and interpreted it in favor of the claimants. After all, the money which will be given to the claimants would not come from their pockets. The issue should have been closed a long time ago.)