CHIEF Justice Lourdes Sereno should inhibit herself from the controversial Torre de Manila condominium case even if her husband, Mario Jose Sereno, is no longer connected with DMCI Corp. to erase suspicion of partiality, sources said over the weekend.
Sereno should also recuse herself from the case involving the Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) because the power firm’s lead counsel was her former law partner, the sources added.
Mario Sereno was connected with Dacon Corporation, a Consunji-owned firm, but resigned from that company almost 26 years ago, in July 1989.
Hence, the connection is not covered by rules on mandatory inhibition but is left within the sound judgment of Sereno for voluntary inhibition.
A Supreme Court (SC) source said the Chief Justice must inhibit from all cases involving DMCI to save the tribunal from humiliation.
“A magistrate should not only be impartial but must also appear to be impartial. Nakakahiya si Meilou [Sereno] kahit ba hindi na connected mister niya sa DMCI eh alam mong pagdududahan ka tapos kapit-tuko ka pa sa kaso [It is a shame for Sereneo to still be clinging to case because even if her husband is no longer connected with DMCI, she will be under suspicion of partiality],” the SC source added.
In a statement, the Chief Justice, through lawyer Theodore Te, chief of the SC Public Information Office, said, “Please note that under the SC Internal Rules, Rule 8, sec. 3(c), any mandatory inhibition arising from membership of a justice with a law firm that acted as counsel ceases within a period of ten years unless the justice personally handled the matter. The supposed connection of the [Chief Justice’s] spouse to a party in a pending case is not a ground for mandatory inhibition; note also that the connection ceased 26 years ago.”
Using the same rule that Sereno cited, she has clearly violated rules on mandatory inhibition for refusal to inhibit in a case on power rate increase sought by Meralco despite the lead counsel of the utility being a former law partner of the Chief Justice and their relationship has not ceased within the 10-year period required by law.
From documents obtained by The Manila Times, Meralco’s lawyer, retired SC Justice Florentino Feliciano, was a former partner of Sereno in the Piatco case.
Feliciano got the services of Sereno as documentation lawyer for the government case against Piatco, a consortium that built Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3.
In the Personal Data Sheet of Sereno when she applied for the position of Associate Justice of the High Court, she stated that she served as lawyer in the Piatco case and was law partner of Feliciano from 2003 until 2008.
From 2008 up to the present, Sereno is considered banned from handling cases involving a former law partner like Feliciano under the 10-year mandatory inhibition rule.
Sereno was also the runner or aide of Feliciano during the Feliciano Commission investigation of coup plots against then-President Corazon Aquino.
Rules on inhibition, under the Internal Rules of the SC under Administrative Matter No. 10-4-20-SC, say Sereno must inhibit herself from a case handled by a former law partner.
Rule 8, Section 3C states, “When a member of the division, other than the member in charge of the case, was counsel or partner or member of a law firm that is or was counsel in the case before the division, such member shall inhibit himself or herself, unless the member was no longer a partner or member of the law firm when it was engaged as counsel in the case and the member votes against the client of such firm.”
Another provision states, “In any event, the mandatory inhibition shall cease after the lapse of ten years from the resignation or withdrawal of the member from the law firm, unless the member personally handled the case when he or she was a partner or member of the law firm.”
In the Piatco case, both Sereno and Feliciano, including foreign lawyers, local lawyers and in attorney’ fees and billings in connection with the Piatco suit before Washington and Singapore arbitrations.
Based on the documents, Sereno earned a total of P37 million as documentation lawyer for Feliciano in the case against Piatco from the Washington and Singapore arbitrations.
Sereno’s ties with Feliciano seem to go beyond being law partners.
Feliciano was godfather during the wedding of Sereno’s son, Jose Lorenzo Sereno, and Clarissa Buenaventura on January 26, 2013 held at the Diocesan Shrine and Parish of Saint Therese of the Child Jesus on Marcos Highway, Antipolo City.