BAGUIO CITY: A “war of the roses” broke out at the full court session of the Supreme Court in the country’s summer capital on Tuesday.
Chief Justice on leave Maria Lourdes Sereno faced grilling from colleagues, particularly her mortal nemesis, Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, the most senior female associate justice.
It was the first time a sitting chief justice faced off with her fellow magistrates in oral arguments at the high tribunal.
Sereno is the subject of a quo warranto petition filed by Solicitor General Jose Calida.
Calida wants Sereno kicked out of the Supreme Court, arguing she was ineligible to be appointed chief justice in 2012 because of her failure to submit all of her statements of assets liabilities and net worth (SALN) as required by the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC), the body that screens judiciary nominees.
Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio sat as presiding officer of the oral arguments. Only 12 justices were present as Associate Justices Mariano del Castillo and Andres Reyes Jr. were on official leave.
Sereno, in her opening statement, insisted that only the Senate, as an impeachment court, had jurisdiction over her case.
Things heated up when Sereno agreed to answer all questions from the justices, provided that they be subjected to a quo warranto petition as well for their failure to submit their SALNs to the JBC.
“Can I have your assurance that should a quo warranto petition be filed against any of you, on the ground that one or more of your SALNs are not on record, that you would also, under oath, declare before this court, answer all questions regarding your SALNs?” Sereno asked her colleagues.
De Castro immediately asked Sereno if she had filed a complete set of SALNS when she applied for the position of associate justice in 2010.
Turning the tables on de Castro, Sereno said de Castro was supposed to submit a total of 39 SALNs, but turned over only 15.
This irked de Castro, who countered that she was not the one on trial.
De Castro also denied an allegation in Sereno’s motion for inhibition against her that she told Sereno in 2012 that she would never forgive the chief justice for accepting the position.
Only 3 SALNs
Carpio served as the referee between the two female jurists, and at one point intervened by stating that Sereno should answer de Castro’s questions.
Answering a query from Associate Justice Noel Tijam, Sereno claimed that it was substantial compliance on her part to submit only three SALNs in her entire career as a law professor of the University of the Philippines.
“Under the Doblada doctrine, I maintain that I consistently filed my SALNs as required by law,” Sereno said.
The Doblada doctrine pertains to a 2005 case wherein Pasig City Regional Trial Court Sheriff Norberto Doblada, Jr. was dismissed for failing to file “true and detailed” SALNs, but was exonerated by the Supreme Court.
The high tribunal ruled that a certification that there were no SALNs on record did not mean non-filing of SALNs.
Bersamin however said Sereno’s case did not square with the Doblado doctrine.
In the Doblado case, a certification was issued by the Office of the Ombudsman, he said. In Sereno’s case, she does not have a certification from UP or the Office of the Ombudsman because her SALNs were incomplete.
Tijam admonished Sereno, saying: “Integrity, chief justice, is not founded on jurisprudence.”
No ‘your honor’
At the opening of the oral arguments, Calida said Sereno had no authority to stay in her post for lack of integrity, as she was not qualified because of her failure to file her SALNs.
Sereno did not address the justices with the customary “your honor,” using their first names instead.
As reported by The Times on Monday, five associate justices junked the plea asked by Sereno for their inhibition in the quo warranto case filed by the solicitor general. Justices de Castro, Bersamin, Tijam, Diosdado Peralta and Francis Jardeleza denied the motion for inhibition during a closed-door en banc session before the oral arguments.
The five justices testified before the House of Representatives’ justice committee in the hearing of the impeachment complaint against Sereno.
They argued that they testified before the House of Representatives on factual matters and in a professional manner.
The oral arguments ended at past 8 in the evening, with the justices telling the solicitor general and Sereno’s lawyers to submit their respective memoranda.
WITH ARIC JOHN SY CUA