BAGUIO CITY: A day after going on indefinite leave, a defiant Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno turned up at the Summer Capital on Friday morning, rejecting calls for her to resign and calling instead for a fair impeachment trial at the Senate.
Speaking at a forum on judicial reforms at the University of Baguio, Sereno said the only way she could clear herself of the impeachment charges was through a full trial.
“I do not owe anyone the duty to resign. I owe the people the duty to say my story,” the chief justice said.
“Give me my day in the Senate Impeachment Court or admit there is no probable cause,” she added.
On Tuesday, 13 justices of the Supreme Court confronted Sereno over a number of her supposed infractions of court rules, including “illegal” appointments and her failure to submit all of her statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALNs) when she applied for the job of chief justice.
In the en banc meeting, Sereno was told to go on an indefinite leave ahead of her looming impeachment trial in the Senate. Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio took over as acting chief justice.
Lawyer Lorenzo Gadon, the impeachment complainant, accuses Sereno of betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the Constitution for:
granting allowances and other perks to herself and her staff on foreign trips;
preventing judges from issuing warrants of arrest against Sen. Leila de Lima on drug related charges;
acquiring a P9-million bulletproof luxury car;
falsifying the temporary restraining order involving the dispute on the elected representatives of the Coalition of Associations of Senior Citizens in the Philippines Inc.;
failing to declare P37 million in fees as government counsel in her SALNs;
and manipulating the shortlist of the Judicial and Bar Council to exclude then Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza, for personal and political reasons, thereby curtailing the President’s power to appoint members of the judiciary.
Explaining their action against Sereno in an unprecedented statement on Wednesday, the 13 justices said: “After extended deliberations last Tuesday, February 27, 2018, thirteen of the Justices present arrived at a consensus that the Chief Justice should take an indefinite leave. Several reasons were mentioned by the various justices.
After consulting with the two most senior justices, the Chief Justice herself announced that she was taking an indefinite leave, with the amendment that she start the leave on Thursday, March 1, 2018.”
In Baguio on Friday, Sereno urged to public to respect the impeachment process as prescribed by law.
The House justice committee has ended its hearings on the impeachment complaint, and is expected to recommend the filing of articles of impeachment with the Senate for the trial.
“I will give an account of my actions as chief justice to the people,” Sereno said.
For lawyer Oliver Lozano, however, a trial is not needed as Sereno should be removed from her post for her failure to comply with the requirements to be appointed to office.
In his four-page petition, Lozano urged the court to declare void Sereno’s appointment “in the paramount interest of public welfare.”
“The appointment Chief Justice Sereno is questioned as void for non-compliance with mandatory legal requirements of her appointment,” it stated.
He stressed that under Article 5 of the Civil Code, “[a]ny act against a mandatory or prohibitory provision of law is void.”
“The protracted and scandalous controversy over the validity of Chief Justice Sereno’s appointment, and impeachment against her have caused deep division and dissension in the Bench (courts) and Bar (lawyers),” Lozano pointed out.
Lozano said the high court must act promptly, motu proprio or on its own, on the issue, using its “inherent and plenary powers.”
“The verdict [of the Supreme Court]will also preserve the independence of the judiciary from congress,” he added.
“Any public official should be above reproach and suspicion like the wife of Julius Caesar. Any technicality that undermines justice must be slain at sight like an outlaw.”
Earlier, Vanguard of the Philippine Constitution President Eligio Mallari urged the Office of the Solicitor General to seek quo warranto proceedings in the Supreme Court to oust Sereno from office.
Mallari noted that Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta himself had testified before the House that Sereno’s appointment was “void from the beginning” because of her failure to submit all of her SALNs to the Judicial and Bar Council, which screens court appointees.
Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo de Castro told lawmakers Sereno’s appointment was a clear “grave injustice” to those who had complied with the requirement of filing their SALNs conscientiously.
IBP warns vs unseating Sereno
Also on Friday, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) warned the Supreme Court justices against moves to unseat Sereno, saying the only legal way to remove her was through a conviction by the Senate impeachment court.
“We express firm belief that conviction after an impeachment trial is the only constitutionally recognized mode by which to remove a sitting Chief Justice. The Constitution reigns supreme over all other rules. Any artifice or device intended to solely target the Chief Justice and short-circuit the process would be repugnant to the Constitution, and must be slain on sight if our democratic processes are to be observed,” the IBP said in a statement signed by IBP National President Abdiel Dan Elijah Fajardo.
The IBP also welcomed the assumption of Carpio as acting chief justice.
“There are no better hands to take the baton of leadership in the meantime that we wait for evidence to be presented or controverted in the impending trial of Chief Justice Sereno,” the IBP said.
WITH JOMAR CANLAS AND LLANESCA T. PANTI