SPEAKER Pantaleon Alvarez believes the testimony of Supreme Court Justice Francis Jardeleza over his “treason” allegation against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno would constitute betrayal of public trust.
While treason is “applicable only during war,” he opined at a news conference Tuesday Sereno could still be liable for it.
Alvarez said the testimonies of four SC justices last Monday at the House committee on justice were solid enough to pin down Sereno as these were made “under oath” by no less than justices themselves.
“All of these were first hand information. How do you refute that? All the testimonies were made under oath. So there is a presumption of credibility and they were not afraid to attend the hearings,” Alvarez said in a mix of Filipino and English.
Alvarez said the fact that Sereno continued to refuse to attend the impeachment proceedings conducted by the House justice panel only proved she was hiding something.
“The way I see it, she is afraid to confront the truth...this is a constitutional process which impeachable officials must respect,” Alvarez added.
During the proceeding Monday, Jardeleza accused Sereno of treason when she “illegally secured” in 2014 Alvarez a highly-confidential matter about the Philippines’ legal position over the disputed West Philippine Sea.
Jardeleza, a former solicitor general, was surprised as to how Sereno managed to get the information when it was supposed to be classified as confidential and restricted.
The “top-secret” document was the March 2014 memorandum of Jardeleza which cited his reasons to exclude the Taiwanese-occupied Itu-Aba from Manila’s arbitration case versus China.
Then president Benigno Aquino III designated Jardeleza to head the Philippine delegation as the country’s chief government counsel.
This, Jardeleza said, could have explained Sereno’s opposition to his SC nomination in 2014.
In Monday’s House hearing, two incumbent Supreme Court Justices and a retired SC Justice denounced what they called Sereno’s repeated violations of the internal rules of the high court, imposing her will on the collegial body.
In that hearing, deputy speaker and South Cotabato Rep. Ferdinand Hernandez said Justice Noel Tijam said Sereno “arrogated” upon herself the power of the court en banc when she assigned the Maute case to herself and in making it appear the court en banc agreed to transfer the trial of the cases in Cagayan de Oro City.
Justice Teresita de Castro, who said the case was not actually raffled off and assigned to Sereno, called the process “irregular.”
“I believe that the actions done by the Chief Justice from the time she assumed the position showed no respect for the court en banc,” De Castro told the House justice committee.
For his part, Jardeleza echoed Hernandez’s observation and that the en banc was in fact very concerned of its reputation as a result.
“We are here to make sure that after these proceedings that the en banc in its entirety stands for the rule of law,” Jardeleza said
The testimony of retired Justice Arturo Brion intensified the sentiments of the justices against the chief justice.
He said since Sereno did not convene the Ethics Committee of the high court, the justices had to resort to correcting any transgressions of the rules in the en banc session.
Brion said Sereno’s continued violation of the collegial nature of the court had generated negative sentiments.
Brion recalled these resentments of the justices had surfaced during the en banc meeting where sometimes heated words were exchanged.
De Castro said for her part she had been calling the attention of Sereno so she would not commit the same mistakes all over again.
On a separate issue, Brion said he saw malice when Sereno invoked the unanimity rule in blocking the appointment of then Solicitor General Jardeleza to the high court.
Brion said in his separate and concurring opinion on the case of Jardeleza vs Sereno, he stated that the Chief Justice “manipulated the processes of the JBC [Judicial and Bar Council] for her own end” to exclude Jardeleza from the list of possible appointees to the high court.
He said Jardeleza passed the initial interviews with flying colors and no opposition was raised against his appointment but on June 5 Sereno raised a question of integrity against Jardeleza.
Before this, or on May 29, Brion said Sereno prepared a letter to the court en banc saying several of their colleagues asked her to forego the traditional voting for the nominees to the vacant SC post.
As a result, the SC did not vote for any nominee.
De Castro, however, said Sereno did not identify the SC justices who allegedly made the request and that none of their colleagues would admit to making such request.
“That would have added some weight to the nomination of Sol Gen Jardeleza...pure and simple invocation: That person has no integrity. No citation from the interviews,” Brion said.
Likewise, Brion said two other issues were raised against Jardeleza, including immorality and insider trading although no written charges were made.
Jardeleza was invited to appear in the June 30 proceedings to defend himself.
However, he questioned the proceedings before the SC.
Brion said the case was not raffled off before June 30, when the JBC was expected to finalize its choice of nominees.
On June 30 the JBC came out with a list of four nominees and submitted it to Malacanang, but the name of Jardeleza is not included.
The SC en banc only noted Jardeleza’s case, as it deemed it moot and academic.
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