CHIEF Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno unilaterally decided not to raffle off the request by Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre 2nd to remove the cases filed against the Maute group out of Marawi City, violating the Supreme Court’s collegiality, magistrates said on Monday.
Associate Justice Teresita de Castro confirmed this before the Committee on Justice of the House of Representatives, which is hearing the impeachment complaint against the chief justice for culpable violation of the Constitution, corruption, betrayal of public trust and other high crimes.
Associate Justice Noel Tijam said the May 29 letter of Aguirre was included in the Supreme Court’s en banc session on June 6 but was not discussed.
Tijam said during the lunch break of the same day, he received a call from Sereno, saying that she discussed the letter with other members of the Court over lunch following the en banc session.
Tijam said “a lunch was attended by the members of the Court, but not all members are present.”
“I do not know how many members were present during lunch, but there is a distinct difference in discussing matters during the en banc session and holding a caucus on an important matter when in front of your plates, forks and food,” Tijam said.
Associate Justice Francis Jardeleza, in a separate testimony, said he was “surprised” about the decision to hold the trial cases in Cagayan de Oro City “because the day before [the en banc session]the Chief Justice circulated to members of the Court materials on this matter which included the letter, the recommendation of [Court Administrator Midas] Marquez and [court spokesman Theodore]Te and the proposed resolution.”
Marquez’s recommendation was to move the cases to the Taguig Regional Trial Court.
Tijam said the results of the raffles were confidential and that the justice assigned to the case would be duly notified.
“I assumed that the letter was raffled to her because she was the one who reported in the en banc [on]this particular matter. I was surprised that the May 29 letter of Secretary Aguirre was not attached to the rollo [folder]of the case, but it was stamp-received by the Office of the Chief Justice on the same day,” Tijam said.
He said Lorenzo Gadon, the lawyer who filed the impeachment complaint against Sereno, may have mistaken him from being the officer-in-charge of the Maute transfer cases because he circulated Memorandums on June 14 among members of the Court stating his vote granting Aguirre’s request.
Retired justice Arturo Brion also testified that Sereno “manipulated” the processes of the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) to exclude then-solicitor general Francis Jardeleza from the shortlist of potential replacements for Associate Justice Roberto Abad.
Brion, a member of the JBC, said Jardeleza passed the public interview “in flying colors” and that there were no objections, but Sereno questioned his integrity over his handling of the international arbitration case regarding the West Philippine Sea.
Brion added that issues of immorality and insider trading were also raised against Jardeleza, but no proofs were shown.
Jardeleza, who filed a case before the Supreme Court, was made to appear and defend himself on June 30, 2014, the same day the JBC was expected to finalize the shortlist. However, the case was not raffled. The court en banc, then deemed the case of Jardeleza “moot and academic.”
“I read that to mean a very malicious move on the part of the en banc. I found malice not only because of the surrounding circumstances because at that point, there was only a month and 13 days before the presidential time limit [to fill a vacancy in the Supreme Court],” Brion explained.
He said Sereno also gave a supplemental comment on August 15, which did not give Jardeleza ample time and opportunity to defend himself.
Jardeleza said he filed another case before the Supreme Court. The court, en banc, eventually overturned its earlier ruling and ordered Jardeleza included in the shortlist.
The justices called out Sereno for “disrespecting” the collegial nature of the court en banc for taking matters into her own hands.
Brion said Sereno’s numerous acts of bypassing the en banc led to the issue being bigger and bigger, which led to heated words during en banc sessions.
De Castro said she grew tired of calling the attention of Sereno.
“I keep calling the attention of [the chief justice]. I have been repeating this for the past five years and she is not stopping her violation of not taking matters into the en banc. We are all together in en banc sessions. How much more will we endure?” de Castro said.