CHIEF Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno should resign to spare the judiciary from “further damage,” Malacañang said Monday.
Admitting that President Rodrigo Duterte wanted Sereno “to be removed altogether, by all means”-- Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said her possible impeachment would damage the judiciary.
“I call upon Chief Justice Sereno to really consider resigning if only to spare the institution from further damage,” Roque told reporters in a regular Palace news briefing.
The Palace spokesman called on the Chief Justice “to reexamine very carefully the effect of another removal to the institution itself.”
“It cannot be that there will be a second instance that a sitting Chief Justice will be removed as a result of decision of the Senate. We cannot wait for that. If we were to wait for that, it is the finding of guilt that will undermine the independence of the judiciary,” he said.
“I don’t think the judiciary can survive another decision to remove another sitting chief justice,” he added, referring to the impeachment trial against the late Renato Corona.
Sereno, who was appointed by former President Benigno Aquino III, is facing an impeachment case over her alleged betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the Constitution for failing to fully disclose his wealth, on top of other allegations of mismanagement in the affairs of the high court.
While the impeachment proceedings have yet to reach the Senate, Roque—a former member of the House committee on justice—said he had already read the complaint, Sereno’s response, and all the other replies.
“I’m very bothered by the allegations, which to my mind are supported not just by substantial evidence but very convincing evidence that some of the grounds may in fact be impeachable,” he said.
He added that his call for Sereno to resign also reflects the sentiment of the President, who had earlier challenged Sereno and Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales to resign with him.
By his suggestion, Roque denied that he is undermining the judiciary, which he branded as the “weakest branch of government.”
“[Sereno] has only to blame herself if she feels that the impeachment proceeding has affected the independence of the judiciary,” he added.
Roque made these in response to Sereno alluding to a “resurgence of political forces” that have “threatened and harassed” the independence of the judicial system.
During her keynote address at the 8th International Conference on the Training of the Judiciary, Sereno said that a good judicial system is only “as strong and independent as the belief and faith of the people in it.”
Sereno on Monday rejected the call of Malacañang for her to resign.
Her spokesman, lawyer Carlo Cruz, said resignation has never an option for the chief justice.
“The chief justice needs to face the impeachment proceeding precisely to preserve the dignity and independence of both the Supreme Court and the Office of the Chief Justice,” Cruz said in a statement.
“She has done nothing to damage the institution, and she has been doing everything to strengthen it,” Cruz added.
Sereno’s camp again denied the allegations in the impeachment case against her.
In a forum at the Manila Hotel, her lawyer Jose Deinla reiterated that Sereno has not committed any act of betrayal of public trust or culpable violation of the Constitution as insinuated in lawyer Lorenzo Gadon’s complaint, which the House has already found sufficient in form and substance.
Among the allegations in the impeachment case against Sereno is the alleged misdeclaration in her statements of assets, liabilities and net worth by supposedly hiding her P30-million earning as government counsel in the arbitration case involving the expropriation of Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3.
“There is no anomaly in her SALNs. It is unreasonable for anyone to expect her earnings from the Piatco case to be intact,” Deinla argued, reiterating that Sereno has invested her earnings in properties reflected in her SALNs.
“She paid all the taxes and obligations. When it was recomputed, there was even an overpayment on her part,” the lawyer said.
Gadon’s complaint also cited her supposed extravagant spending of judicial funds by purchasing a P5-million Toyota Land Cruiser and traveling on first-class flights and hotels.
However, Deinla stressed that Sereno is not extravagant and has been actually living a modest lifestyle.
“There is definitely nothing wrong with the purchase of the vehicle. It was for security purposes and not for luxury. It was also approved by the full court as part of the SC’s regular procurement,” she said.
Lastly, Deinla reiterated that Sereno would not attend the hearing of the House committee justice on Nov. 20 for determination of probable cause in charges against her.
Just as in their previous statement, she invoked Sereno’s constitutional right to be defended by her lawyers as an accused in the impeachment case.
Three lawmakers on Monday criticized Roque’s call for Sereno to resign.
“Resignation is the sole prerogative of the person subject to the impeachment,” said Rep. Gus Tambunting of Parañaque City. “My position in these kinds of matters will always be to let the procedures provided by the Constitution go forward, respecting all the time our institutions.”
Rep. Rodolfo Albano III of Isabela said the impeachment process against Sereno, which is now on the determination of probable cause at the House committee on justice, should be allowed to progress.
Albano said Roque—being a lawyer himself—must acknowledged the separation of powers among the branches of government.
Buhay party-list Rep. Lito Atienza shared a similar viw.
“I do not agree with my good friend Secretary Harry. There’s nothing wrong with the chief justice undergoing impeachment and trial,” Atienza said.