The Supreme Court (SC) en banc on Tuesday allowed justices and court officials to testify in the hearings on the impeachment complaint against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno at the House of Representatives.
The high court, minus Sereno, voted unanimously to allow Associate Justices Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, Francis Jardeleza and Noel Tijam to attend the proceedings.
Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio presided over the en banc deliberations after Sereno recused. Carpio was tasked to draft the resolution containing the guidelines for the appearance of justices and court officials.
“As regards testimony on administrative matters, those who are invited to testify on administrative matters may do so if they wish. The court is not requiring them but the court is granting them clearance if they so wish to appear and testify on administrative matters,” the court said in a statement
The court also allowed Justice de Castro to show and release documents to the House of Representatives in connection with the Senior Citizens’ party-list case, including internal memoranda between Sereno and de Castro.
The impeachment complainant, lawyer Lorenzo Gadon, accused Sereno of tampering with the recommended action or draft resolution on the Senior Citizens case, which supposedly “radically changed” the recommendations of the justice in charge, de Castro.
On Monday, The Manila Times Senior Reporter Jomar Canlas testified before the House impeachment hearing that there was such internal communication between Sereno and de Castro, particularly the former admitting to tampering or changing the contents of the de Castro draft.
The Supreme Court Public Information Office released a statement saying that the tribunal allowed de Castro to testify before the House justice committee on the issuance of the TRO in the Senior Citizens cases and the exchange of communications between herself and the Chief Justice not on any matters pertaining to deliberations of the case on the merits; on the clustering case involving the Judicial and Bar Council but limited only to the merits of her main decision but not the deliberations that went into that decision;
on the case involving then Solicitor General now Associate Justice Francis Jardeleza but only about the merits of her separate concurring opinion.
Aside from the three incumbent justices, also asked to appear were retired justices Arturo Brion, Court Administrator Jose Midas Marquez, En Banc Clerk of Court Felipa Anama and Deputy Clerk of Court Lani Papa.
‘Most explosive witness, research person’
House Committee on Justice Chairman and Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali thanked the Supreme Court for allowing the “most explosive witness and research person,” Associate Justice de Castro, to appear before the panel to shed light on the impeachment complaint against Sereno.
Umali said he won’t make the public wait and schedule de Castro’s testimony today.
“We are quite certain that Justice de Castro has been authorized. I guess she will be the most explosive witness or research person that will give the facts that we want to elicit,” Umali said.
De Castro is expected to shed light on Gadon’s allegation that Sereno committed culpable violation of the Constitution by falsifying a Supreme Court resolution in connection with the opening of Regional Court Administrative Office Region 7.
De Castro is also expected to expose the truth on Gadon’s accusation that Sereno falsified a temporary restraining order (TRO) that halted the Commission on Elections (Comelec) from further proclaiming party-list poll winners.
“Culpable violation of the constitution is the strongest case, according to Attorney Gadon,” Umali said.
Gadon was jubilant. “I am very happy that the en banc unanimously approved my suggestion to invite the justices of the Supreme Court to shed light on my allegations,” he said.
Also on Tuesday, House Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas said the House Committee on Justice cannot compel the Chief Justice to appear before the hearings on the impeachment complaint filed by Gadon.
“It is her call, that is the right of the respondent. In administrative cases, even if the chief justice does not want to answer, we cannot force her to submit and answer,” Fariñas said in an interview.
“If she does not submit and answer under our rules, it is tantamount to a general denial of all the allegations, but she submitted an answer. As the speaker said, just respect her right because she is the respondent. We cannot force her and let it reach the point of filing [a subpoena and warrant of arrest],” Fariñas added.
Farinas said the House of Representatives gave Sereno the opportunity to clean her name amid the allegations slung against her.
“Of course, we want to question her but on her part, maybe she is weary of being perjured and that is the reason behind the right to self-incrimination or not forcing the accused or the respondent to testify herself because the risk to perjury and of course if we ask the respondent, natural law of self-defense, she will deny [the allegations]so it may seem useless,” Farinas added.
WITH RALPH EDWIN U. VILLANUEVA