Sereno seeks dismissal of impeachment rap
Published: 4:38 p.m., Sept. 25, 2017 | Updated: 12:25 a.m., Sept. 26, 2017
Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno has sought the dismissal of the impeachment complaint filed by a lawyer in the House of Representatives against her, citing its lack of impeachable grounds and “utterly false” allegations.
In a verified answer submitted to the House committee on justice on Monday, Sereno said she could not be held liable for “culpable violation of the Constitution” because the allegations were “guesswork based on newspaper reports” and “hearsay sources.”
The House committee on Sept. 13 found the impeachment complaint filed by Lorenzo Gadon sufficient in form and substance, paving the way for the panel to hear the charges against Sereno, such as her failure to declare her real wealth, buying a luxury car with government funds and making questionable decisions without consulting fellow magistrates.
Sereno said her attorney’s fees for handling the government suit against Philippine International Air Terminals Co. were properly reflected in her statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN), contrary to Gadon’s claims.
She noted that the allegation pertained to supposed acts committed before she joined the judiciary in 2010.
Sereno pointed out that the attorney’s fees would not be reflected entirely in her 2010 SALN because these were received between 2004 and 2009.
She explained that of the P30.3 million ($593,807.60) in fees, she paid P8.67 million in taxes and spent P14.7 million through the years on her house and lot, her Toyota Altis vehicle, various shares of stock, medical and funeral expenses for her mother and her father-in-law, and tithes and offerings.
She denied charging the government an “exorbitant” fee, saying the case involved a $1-billion claim against the government and her $80 hourly rate was discounted.
Sereno denied falsifying any Supreme Court resolution and manipulating the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC), allegations based on issues mostly raised by Associate Justice Teresita J. Leonardo-de Castro.
The alleged violations of the two bodies’ collegial decision-making processes arose from “differences in opinion with respect to the internal processes” and did not imply any violation of the Constitution, Sereno said.
She said it was false to say she acted unilaterally in reviving Regional Court Administration Office 7 (RCAO 7) because the order had already been approved through Supreme Court resolutions. She denied that the full court had issued a resolution scrapping the resolutions that created the office.
The reply stated that it was not unheard of for a Chief Justice to issue administrative orders because as “head of the entire judiciary,” her “broad administrative powers” had been supported by “long-standing practice and tradition.”
Even if De Castro disagreed with the reopening of RCAO 7, it could not be considered an “impeachable offense.”
TRO on party-list group
Sereno also denied tampering with De Castro’s draft temporary restraining order (TRO) in the leadership dispute of the Coalition of Associations of Senior Citizens in the Philippines to benefit other party-list groups affected by a Commission on Elections (Comelec) resolution.
Since the TRO was issued while the full court was on summer recess in 2013, Sereno said the order was thus issued under her own authority, taking into consideration De Castro’s “recommendatory action.”
She reasoned that upon her evaluation, a Comelec resolution could not be restrained in favor of one group but not the others.
Sereno said there was no violation when it came to the alleged “delay” in the transfer of cases against the Maute group outside Mindanao.
The high court initially found it logical to assign the cases to the Court of Appeals’ Cagayan de Oro station and it took some time to coordinate with the authorities before finally concurring with the Department of Justice’s request, she said.
As to the alleged manipulation of the JBC—the body that vets judicial appointments for the President—Sereno said she was merely expressing concerns regarding the qualification of then Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza to be appointed to the Supreme Court in 2014.
The tribunal in 2014 reinstated Jardeleza to the shortlist, allowing President Benigno Aquino III to appoint him as Supreme Court justice.
Sereno denied she was out to “manipulate” the President’s selection and invoked the JBC’s unanimity rule, which requires the vote of all members in including a nominee in the shortlist when his integrity is called into question.
She noted that the Supreme Court, in reinstating Jardeleza to the list, did not even strike down the JBC rule as unconstitutional.
She also said she was “entitled to her own opinion” in questioning Jardeleza’s integrity over his position in the arbitration of the maritime dispute between the Philippines and China.
Nominees to Sandiganbayan
Jardeleza was not furnished a written statement out of a “good faith desire to keep the matters regarding the objection to his nomination confidential,” the reply stated.
On the “clustering” of nominees adopted for the six simultaneous vacancies at the Sandiganbayan, Sereno denied “manipulating” the process so that the President would have to choose one nominee each from separate lists for the positions.
Sereno said the JBC adopted the system as a collegial body. Even if she was the body’s ex-officio chair, she was only entitled to one vote.
Through the reply her legal team submitted to the House justice committee, Sereno appealed to panel members to “administer true political justice, with due regard, not only to the facts and applicable law, but also to the impact of their decision on the future of our democratic system of government and on the delivery of justice through the ongoing reforms.”
She cautioned lawmakers that her impeachment on “false and flimsy grounds” would not only inflict injustice on her but would also undermine the independence of the judiciary and the fundamental principle of separation of powers to the detriment of the republic.
“They will usher instability and inflict injustice to the nation,” she said.
In a press conference, lawyer Jojo Lacanilao said Sereno would not step down from her post and would fight the impeachment complaint. “She is resilient, she will stay on,” he said.
Others on Sereno’s legal team were lawyers Alex Poblador, Anzen Dy, Dino Tamayo, Carlo Cruz, Josalee Deinla and Aldwin Salumbides.
Poblador said the members of the House must “decide on the basis of facts and applicable law, not on the basis of the dictates of their political leaders following some kind of political agenda.”
He later clarified his remarks. “It’s not a statement of fact. It is a statement of possibility, with the hope that all of them still have open minds.”
Salumbides said the Chief Justice was living up to her name of being “serene” in the face of the impeachment case against her. “She is unfazed, because she knows in her conscience that she did not do anything wrong,” he said.
A vote of one-third of the 293 members of the House will send the articles of impeachment to the Senate, whose members will serve as judges in the trial.
If impeached, Sereno would be the second Chief Justice to suffer such a fate following her predecessor. Renato Corona was impeached in December 2011 and found guilty by the Senate in May 2012 for failing to disclose his real wealth in his SALN.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.