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Cold neutrality: Will SC justices follow their ruling in axing Makati judge in Sereno ouster case?

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Call it a “note to self.”

Restating its previous decisions, the Supreme Court recently reminded judges to adjudicate cases brought before them “with the cold neutrality of an impartial judge.”

The so-called “Gods of Padre Faura” reiterated this established doctrine in their March 6 resolution sacking Judge Winlove Dumayas of Makati City Regional Trial Court Branch 59 due to gross ignorance of the law and gross misconduct for lowering the sentence of two men who killed a US serviceman.

“The court has repeatedly and consistently held that the judge must not only be impartial, but must also appear to be impartial as an added assurance to the parties that his decision will be just. The litigants are entitled to no less than that,” the Supreme Court ruled.

“Under Canon 3 of the New Code of Judicial Conduct, impartiality applies not only to the decision itself, but also to the process by which the decision is made,” the resolution read.

The Supreme Court’s reminder couldn’t have come at a better time as the justices are set to vote on May 17 on the quo warranto petition filed Solicitor General Jose Calida against one of their own: Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.

With her tenure in the Supreme Court hanging in the balance, Sereno demanded the inhibition of five of her colleagues from the deliberations on the quo warranto case.

In two separate petitions, Sereno said Associate Justices Teresita Leonardo de Castro, Diosdado Peralta, Noel Tijam, Francis Jardeleza and Lucas Bersamin openly showed their bias when they testified in the impeachment proceedings against her in the House of Representatives.

They also participated in the series of “red Monday protest” carried out by lower court judges and court personnel who are itching to see Sereno leave from the Supreme Court.

“Due process of law requires a hearing before an impartial and disinterested tribunal, and that every litigant is entitled to nothing less than the cold neutrality of an impartial judge,” Sereno said in her petition.

The animosity between Sereno and some of her colleagues became more evident when she faced them at the oral arguments on Calida’s petition during the justices’ summer session in Baguio City on April 10.

Sereno and De Castro engaged in a shouting match from the get-go, with the Chief Justice challenging her fellow magistrates to take the same action should a similar petition be brought against them.

Tijam, who was tasked to write the majority ruling on the quo warranto case, did not hide his animosity towards Sereno and even taunted her over her alleged failure to submit her Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth.

As expected, all five justices tossed out Sereno’s demand for their inhibition. Tijam claimed her insinuations were mere “conjectures which are not supported by sufficient evidence.”

In an article published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, a court insider quoted Tijam as saying that the Chief Justice’s statements “merely tend to cast aspersion on the integrity and competence of the members of this court.”

De Castro, who has been Sereno’s staunchest critic since her appointment as Chief Justice in 2012, also refused to budge. This was despite her remark in the House impeachment hearing that the choice of Sereno to head the judiciary was “a grave injustice” to her and other senior justices who were bypassed.

Since the 13-page ruling on Dumayas’ case was a per curiam decision, it did not identify who the ponente was among the 13 justices who took part in the voting.

But several court sources said the resolution was penned by Peralta, who sarcastically described Sereno as “de facto Chief Justice” at the House impeachment hearings.

Will the Supreme Court justices remember their own reminder on being neutral on May 17? Or will they all suffer from selective amnesia?

The country is waiting with bated breath for answers.