Two magistrates of the Supreme Court will testify against Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno, boosting the impeachment complaint against her in the House of Representatives.
Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo-De Castro is set to testify against Sereno before the House committee on justice, while Associate Justice Francis Jardeleza has attested to one of the impeachment charges involving his earlier appointment to the Court.
De Castro has accepted the invitation of the House panel for her to attend the hearing next week, said lawyer Lorenzo Gadon, the complainant in the impeachment case.
“She confirmed her attendance,” Gadon said.
A Court insider who spoke on condition of anonymity also confirmed De Castro would testify against Sereno.
“Justice De Castro will appear before the House justice committee on issues under the culpable violation of the Constitution ground against the chief justice,” the source said.
De Castro was invited by the House for the internal memorandum filed in the Supreme Court last July questioning several of Sereno’s administrative orders, including the appointment of a Philippine Judicial Academy official and the provision for travel allowances for the chief justice’s staff.
De Castro had assailed the appointment of Brenda Jay Mendoza as Philja chief of office for the Philippine Mediation Center, which she said violated their Administrative Order No. 33-2008 that required the appointment for the post to be approved by the Court en banc.
She also questioned Sereno’s grant of foreign travel allowance to members of her staff without the required approval from the full court. She said Sereno’s staff were being given travel allowances, even when they were not on official time.
Lastly, De Castro has questioned the “long delay” in the appointment in vacant key positions in the Court pending before Sereno’s office, “which is prejudicial to the best interest of service.”
The issues raised in De Castro’s memorandum were among the grounds for impeachment cited by Gadon is his complaint.
De Castro denied providing information to Manila Times reporter Jomar Canlas on Sereno’s alleged falsification of several Court documents, including a temporary restraining order on party-list proclamations--as claimed by Gadon during the hearing on Wednesday.
“I have never released to Jomar Canlas any information, report, or document regarding the work of the Court,” she said in a brief statement.
Gadon stood firm on his claim, however.
“What is being denied is that she gave to Jomar Canlas documents and information. It was not denied that the memorandum exists. In fact, the House already has a certified copy of the said memorandum,” the lawyer said.
Gadon said the House panel is also set to invite Jardeleza in relation to the impeachment charge that Sereno manipulated the Judicial and Bar Council in attempting to block his appointment to the Supreme Court.
The lawyer cited Jardeleza’s speech in the commencement exercises of UP College of Law in 2015 where he slammed Sereno.
Sereno had objected to Jardeleza’s nomination because of his move then as solicitor general to order the deletion of key parts of the Philippine memorandum or memorial that was to be submitted to a United Nations-backed arbitral tribunal in the Hague, particularly the portion on the Itu Aba. Taiwan-controlled Itu Aba is the largest island in the contested Spratly Islands.
In his speech, Jardeleza said even if he wanted to, he could not defend himself over Sereno and Carpio’s accusations as he was bound by the client-lawyer confidentiality and could not discuss in public aspects of the territorial dispute.
“Under our code of ethics, we carry the secrets of the client to the grave. These secrets include case litigation strategy and tactics. You do not telegraph these to the adversary. That would be treason,” he said.
Describing his ordeal as a “near death experience,” Jardeleza said Sereno violated “with impunity” laws and administrative orders prohibiting public officers charged with the custody of confidential documents containing state secrets from revealing their contents.
“Sharks and bullies can be brutal. I cannot guarantee that you will triumph over the bullies and the sharks. In my case, I almost perished. I was bloodied. But I stood my ground. I pushed back. So that’s my advice to you: when faced with a bully, push back,” the magistrate told UP law graduates in his speech.
In Jardeleza’s case, Gabon also cited the Supreme Court ruling allowing the former solicitor general to be included in the shortlist for the vacancy in the high tribunal after being removed by the JBC under Sereno as chair.
Retired Associate Justice Arturo Brion even wrote in his concurring opinion that “CJ Sereno manipulated the JBC process to exclude Jardeleza as a nominee.”
Brion accused Sereno of “character assassination in the guise of a Supplemental Comment” and timed this comment at a stage of the case when Jardeleza would have no opportunity to refute it.
Earlier reports highlighted the lack of support for Sereno from her colleagues in the judiciary--unlike the time during the impeachment the trial of the late Chief Justice Renato Corona in 2012, where judges and court employees issued a manifesto of support and even held “Black Monday” protests to support him.
On Thursday, the chairman of the House committee on justice said his panel was considering issuing a subpoena to Sereno to compel her presence in proceedings to determine probable cause in her impeachment case.
“To subpoena the Chief Justice is one option being considered as of the moment because we have the constitutional mandate to perform and she, as a constitutional officer, should honor and comply with that. Remember, that is our coercive power to compel her presence,” Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali, the panel chairman, said.
Umali said Sereno could be cited for contempt if she ignored the subpoena.
“That could be a possibility,” Umali said.
Umali acknowledged that doing so could spark a constitutional crisis because of the separation of powers of the legislative and judicial branches of the government.
“The issue of constitutional crisis may arise of course. But in the spirit of fairness, we want her to answer the allegations in the impeachment complaint,” Umali said.
He also said the House will deliberate extensively on the impeachment case as the proceedings at the House may extend to January 2018, when Congress resumes session after a holiday break in December.
“I am afraid that we might not be able to vote on the committee report this Dec. 13 or the day when we adjourn for the holidays,” Umali said.
On Wednesday, the House justice committtee voted 30-4 to reject Sereno’s request to allow her lawyers to participate and defend her by cross-examining the witnesses to be presented by Gadon.
The committee also disallowed non-panel members to participate or speak during the deliberation of Sereno’s impeachment, by 30-3 vote.
Then the committee agreed to invite all Supreme Court justices and a broadsheet reporter to shed light on aspects of the impeachment complaint against Sereno.
Sereno’s camp slammed the “fishing expedition” in the House.
Lawyer Josa Deinla, a spokesperson of Sereno, said the hearing in the House committee on justice was obviously “a desperate and vicious effort to obtain evidence against the top magistrate.”
“It has always been our position that the people’s money should never fund a fishing expedition and unfortunately, this was what exactly happened in Wednesday’s hearing,” said Deinla said.
Deinla also pointed out that during the last hearing, Gadon has issued several requests to subpoena witnesses and documents.
“It is pretty clear that Mr. Gadon’s allegations have no strong and solid bases, owing to his failure to provide the justice committee with evidence he claimed to have personal knowledge of. We were right from the beginning that his impeachment complaint was nothing but garbage and should have not been entertained in the first place,” she said.
Deinla also assailed how Umali appeared to allow Gadon “to put the cart before the horse and get away with it.”
“Mr. Gadon’s resorting to fishing expedition, with the aid of some members of the committee,” she said.
Gadon twitted Sereno for staying away from the hearings.
“Why is CJ Sereno skipping House hearings when she has all the time [to do] the rounds in public forums?” he said. “Is the CJ afraid of displaying her litigation skills or lack of [them]?”
Gadon disputed the claim of Sereno’s lawyers that she could not personally attend to her impeachment case because she has duties in the judiciary.
“CJ Sereno claims she wants to focus on her duties in the SC, but why is she everywhere else discussing her case in media interviews?” he asked.
Gadon earlier accused Sereno of rallying support from the public, which she did not get from the judiciary.
In response, the camp of Sereno denied the allegation and claimed that speaking in public forums is part of the chief justice’s duties.
“Conducting media interviews and attending public forums, inasmuch as they would make an informed citizenry and promote the respect for the rule of law, are also duties of the chief justice,” Deinla said.
“Would the complainant further want to muzzle the chief justice in these public places?” She added.
After discussing her case in interviews with ANC Headstart and GMA News TV’s “Bawal And Pasaway Kay Mareng Winnie,” both of which aired Monday, the embattled chief justice appeared in two forums on Thursday.
She was keynote speaker in the Integrated Bar of the Philippines Pagtugon sa Hamon forum in Taguig City in the morning and was also guest speaker in the Philippine Institute of Certified Public Accountants’s 72nd Annual Convention in Pasay City in the afternoon.
In her speech, Sereno called on lawyers to do their part in fighting impunity and human rights violations in “these dangerous times.”
She asked them not to allow themselves to be “stymied, muzzled or cowed” and “let no political ambition stand in the way of standing for what is right.”
“Make your stand in such a way that no one will doubt that your hearts are with the Filipino people. Let your voices be heard clearly, as a call to our people to unite and defend the freedoms that our forefathers dearly paid with blood for,” Sereno said.
Sereno said lawyers should exert “pressure” on institutions like the Department of Justice “to ensure that impunity ends, accountability is consistently exacted, the rule of law established and of course, resultantly, that human rights are protected.”
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