Sereno’s ‘interference’ in Ilocos Six tiff ‘lacks delicadeza’ – CA justice
“Siya na raw ang bahala (She will take care of it).”
This alleged interference by Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno in the dispute between the House of Representatives and the Court of Appeals over the Ilocos Six case may have been improper, opined a CA justice who was only told about her remarks.
During the House justice committee’s 12th hearing on the impeachment complaint against Sereno on Tuesday, CA Associate Justice Remedios Salazar-Fernando said then-Presiding Justice (now-SC Associate Justice) Andres Reyes Jr. met with Sereno in June when the standoff with the legislature escalated.
Although she had “no personal knowledge,” Fernando said Reyes, during a June 21 meeting, relayed Sereno’s message that “the Chief Justice and the Supreme Court will protect the Court of Appeals.”
The day before, the House good government committee issued a show cause order for CA Associate Justices Stephen Cruz, Edwin Sorongon and Nina Antonino-Valenzuela to explain why they should not be cited for contempt for ordering the release of the provincial officers.
The six subordinates of Governor Imee Marcos were held in contempt and detained from May to July for being uncooperative in the probe on the alleged misuse of tobacco tax proceeds.
‘Sereno gave legal advice’
Citing Reyes, Fernando said Sereno “advised the three justices to file a petition for prohibition before the Supreme Court at siya na raw ang bahala (and she will take care of it).”
The CA justice said her colleagues were not able to react about the message relayed by Reyes because “we didn’t know what that meant.”
Fernando said Reyes called another meeting on June 22 to announce that he and Sereno had issued a joint statement, which urged the House to reconsider the show cause order and avail of the proper legal remedies.
Then on June 23, a mass was held in the CA and Sereno attended a luncheon there with the justices.
Fernando said Sereno supposedly instructed the court not to invite the three justices involved in the Ilocos Six case “because there might be a case filed before the Supreme Court and the Chief Justice might be asked to inhibit form the case.”
The CA justice had personal knowledge about the luncheon since Sereno attended it. Fernando said the top magistrate only told the CA members not to “make any comment, [because] we have a spokesperson,” referring to SC Public Information Office Chief Theodore Te.
‘Lack of propriety’
Initially reluctant to “jump to a conclusion,” Fernando was later prodded by the interpellating lawmakers to comment if Sereno’s alleged behavior was proper.
“Propriety dictates it should not be the case,” she answered. “I would not do it. For me personally, I find it [to be a] lack of delicadeza, or lack of propriety.”
But, the CA justice opined that “perhaps as the head of the judiciary, [Sereno] was just giving an advice to a lower court member,” even if “it may not be proper, especially if the public would hear it.”
Justice committee vice-chair Rep. Vicente Veloso, a former CA justice himself, said Sereno violated Article VIII of the Constitution, which required the members of the judiciary to be “of proven competence, integrity, probity, and independence” and to “hold office during good behavior.”
He added: “Ang Chief Justice ay nawalan po ng impartiality sa kasong ito (The Chief Justice lost her impartiality in this case) in violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct.”
Committee chair Rep. Reynaldo Umali said he found Sereno’s “advice” to be more like a “directive.”
“This is not just advising, but effectively saying you abandon the case before you and elevate the matter and ask for a relief, or to seek prohibition from the Supreme Court itself and then siya na ang bahala (she will take care of it),” Umali said.
In a statement, Sereno’s legal team denied the allegation and said she only met with Reyes to discuss the contents of the joint statement calling on the House to reconsider the show cause order.
“The Chief Justice did not advise Justice Reyes what particular legal remedy or petition the three CA Justices should take. Neither did she assure Justice Reyes of a favorable outcome on such a petition by telling him that she would take care of that petition in the Supreme Court,” the statement read.
The statement also noted Sereno inhibited herself when the Ilocos Six elevated the case to the SC and asked it to stop the House’s hearings.
Previously, Sereno in her Sept. 25 counter-affidavits said she was “duty-bound to protect the independence of the Judiciary, which would be endangered if three CA Justices were to be called to account for their judicial action by the HoR.”
Besides the Ilocos Six dispute, the House committee also tackled the alleged irregularities in the contracts with information technology consultant Helen Perez-Macasaet.
Complainant Lorenzo Gadon had questioned the multiple contracts of services, currently subject of a pending case before the SC sitting en banc, for allegedly being excessive and granted without the benefit of public bidding.
But, Deputy Court Administrator Raul Villanueva explained the procurement of “highly technical” and “primarily confidential” consultancy services may be pursued through negotiated procurement.
He cited Section 53.7 of the 2009 implementing rules and regulations of the Government Procurement Reform Act, which were in effect when the BAC considered the first two contracts on Oct. 1, 2013 and May 23, 2014.
Villanueva said the bids and awards committee, which he chairs, was only required to review if the contract fell under the IRR provision.
The contract was then awarded directly by the procuring entity: the Office of the Chief Justice and the Management and Information Systems Office.
“Nothing in the rules or even the law with regards to the negotiated procurement states the bids and awards committee should sign the notice of award,” Villanueva said about the legality of the procedures.
Deputy Speaker Gwen Garcia, however, questioned the renewal of the consultancy services for six more times, each for P1.5 million or a total of P9 million, without going through negotiated procurement.
Villanueva said “my understanding is procurement is different from renewal,” which lawmakers took to mean the renewal of the contracts no longer followed the procurement rules.
All in all, Macasaet’s consultancy services lasted a total of four years from October 2013 to November 2017.
Meanwhile, Umali interpreted the SC officials’ admission on the Office of the Chief Justice’s role in the procurement of the consultancy this way: “The SC officials point to Sereno as the source of illegality.”
But, Sereno’s camp, in a statement, maintained there was nothing irregular with the consultancy services and said it was “the Supreme Court, not the Chief Justice” who hired Macasaet to assess the implementation of its Enterprise Information Systems Plan (EISP) and to implement the e-Courts and automated hearing projects for the entire judiciary.
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