The clerk of court of the Supreme Court en banc on Wednesday drew the ire of the chair of the House justice committee that is investigating the impeachment complaint filed against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.
Clerk of court Felipa Anama said she was reluctant to testify in the hearing as she was just submitting certified copies of documents the committee had requested.
But Rep. Reynaldo Umali, the committee chair, read out the invitation for Anama asking her to appear to “answer questions relevant to the allegations.” He told her: “You did not come here just to be a courier of documents.”
Anama also argued that her name was not mentioned in the high court’s Nov. 28 resolution that allowed justices and officials to testify in the impeachment proceedings.
“’Wag tayong maging pilosopo dito (Let’s not be argumentative here),” he said, using a Filipino metaphor.
Anama was asked to shed light on the accusation that the Chief Justice had tried to distance herself from a June 6 order to transfer cases against Maute terror group members to Cagayan de Oro City from Marawi City by “assigning” the matter to Associate Justice Noel Tijam.
Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II had requested that criminal cases stemming from the bloody siege of Marawi City by Islamic State-inspired militants be transferred to Metro Manila.
In the impeachment complaint he filed, lawyer Lorenzo Gadon accused Sereno, among other things, of unduly delaying the transfer of cases involving the Maute band of terrorists from courts in Marawi to courts in Metro Manila.
Anama admitted that the matter of the venue of Maute criminal cases was “assigned” and not raffled off to Sereno, drawing rebuke from lawmakers.
The clerk of court said the administrative matter was taken out of the list of items to be raffled off to the justices.
Anama said the raffle committee “put” the May 29 request-letter of Aguirre in Sereno’s hands during the June 19 raffle.
This was because Sereno “already took action” on the request on June 6, before the matter could be raffled off.
The tribunal’s summer recess had just ended at the time and no raffle had been held yet. Anama said Sereno added the matter to the agenda so it could be acted upon in the full-court session.
“The Chief Justice … can have it included in the agenda, especially if there are urgent matters to resolve,” she said.
That day, the Supreme Court ordered the Maute cases to be transferred to Cagayan de Oro, only two hours from the epicenter of the conflict in Marawi.
Contradicting the claim of Gadon, Anama said the marginal notes on the agenda would show the justices had a proper discussion on the matter before the order was made.
She admitted though that she had no personal knowledge of the happenings in the session because only justices were allowed inside.
The transfer of the Maute cases to Cagayan de Oro prompted Aguirre to file an appeal on June 13 and only then was the matter included in the raffle list for June 19.
Members of the House justice committee were incredulous about Anama’s explanation.
Umali doubted whether Sereno’s citing the urgency of the matter could still be invoked since “the matter was not acted upon [within] several days” of Aguirre’s submission of the request letter. He said June 6 was “quite some time.”
While Anama also denied Gadon’s claim that Tijam was the assigned member in charge and not Sereno, Umali found it “rather unusual” that the junior magistrate would be able to circulate his written opinion to the other justices without seeing the records.
The committee vice chair, Rep. Vicente Veloso, a former Court of Appeals justice, said he “cannot accommodate the possibility that Justice Tijam would circulate his own opinion if he was not the member in charge of the case.”
Rep. Ruwel Peter Gonzaga said this allegation was just one snippet of Sereno’s “repetitive patterns, actions, manners … [of] usurpation, infringing, always encroaching on everything.”
The lawmakers also did not take kindly to Anama’s supposed tendency to be “very evasive,” as an exasperated 1-Sagip Rep. Rodante Marcoleta put it.
Earlier in the hearing, Anama tried invoking the confidentiality of raffles under the Supreme Court’s internal rules in declining to identify the member in charge of the Maute case venue.
Umali had to point out that Sereno herself claimed in her Sept. 25 counteraffidavit that she was the member in charge. Only then did Anama say: “If the Chief Justice admitted to it, yes, I would not be able to do anything.”
Umali told her that “you’re just showing you’re not being cooperative with this committee.”
“She cannot hide behind the cloak of confidentiality or anonymity on these matters. We’re performing a constitutional duty … and no one, and I mean that, no one is above the law,” he said of Anama.
Marcoleta questioned Anama’s supposed “loyalty” to Sereno for extending her term as clerk of court.
“We’re just working. I beg to disagree. We’re just doing our job properly,” Anama said. “I’m loyal to the institution, your honor. I’ve been working for the government for 44 years.”
Marcoleta retorted: “If you’re saying that you’re loyal to the institution, show it.”