CHIEF Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno crossed swords with Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo de Castro Thursday in a public forum for women judges.
In a speech before the annual convention of the Philippine Women Judges Association, Sereno scored her critics for resorting to “gossiping and innuendos” in their efforts to oust her as top magistrate, but vowed to fight until the end.
After the speech De Castro quickly approached the podium and slammed Sereno for tackling her impeachment case at the forum.
De Castro cited the sub judice rule, which prohibits members of the Court as well as lawyers from discussing merits of a pending case before any public venue.
“I’m sorry that the chief justice has taken this opportunity to discuss a matter that is sub judice. We have given her all the courtesy and I sincerely hope that she should not have dealt with a matter that is pending with the court,” she said.
The comment from De Castro, president of the PWJA, silenced the venue.
Justices were surprised by Sereno’s speech because organizers had asked her not to tackle the impeachment case in deference to the other justices present.
Also in the event were acting Chief Justice and Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and Associate Justices Presbitero Velasco Jr., Mariano Del Castillo, Samuel Martires, Noel Tijam, Diosdado Peralta and Estala Perlas Bernabe. Only Velasco applauded after Sereno’s speech.
Sereno and De Castro have clashed before, with shouting matches during their sessions being reported in the media. In one instance, De Castro confronted Sereno in front of their colleagues and told her to “stop lying” in her dissenting opinions.
De Castro earlier testified in the impeachment proceedings against Sereno before the House justice committee.
In the hearings, she raised questions on validity of Sereno’s appointment due her failure to comply with the 10-year statement of assets, liabilities and net worth requirement for the chief justice post.
De Castro believed that it was “great injustice” for other nominees for the chief justice post knowing that the one appointed by then President Benigno Aquino III was actually not qualified due to incomplete requirements.
She even suggested that the Judicial and Bar Council regular members could be held liable for violation of Republic Act 3019 or Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act for including Sereno in the shortlist for the Court vacancy.
Meanwhile, the opposition Liberal Party said the Supreme Court is courting a constitutional crisis by considering the quo warranto case against Sereno.
In a statement, LP cited the 1987 Constitution explicitly saying that impeachment is the only means to remove a member of the Supreme Court. Doing it through any other means is unconstitutional.
“We urge the Supreme Court Justices to adhere to the very Constitution that they are sworn to protect and abide by,” the LP said.
“The Supreme Court must show respect for the Constitution and a co-equal branch by allowing Congress to perform its constitutionally mandated duty,” the opposition party added.
During her speech, Sereno aimed broadsides at her critics, whom she accused of employing “lies and bullying.”
“All kinds of lies, threats, harassment and bullying have been thrown my way. But I will not yield,” Sereno said.
“I am fighting for our future as a freedom-loving nation; I am fighting for our honor as apostles of the Rule of Law. And because it is a fight that is worthy of all that I have, I will not throw in the towel; after all, my day is still to come at the Senate impeachment court,” she said.
“This fight is a fight for judicial independence, for the right of every member of the Court to confront her accuser face to face in a trial type proceeding,” she said.
“And I ask you to look at our fellowship and where it has brought us. I ask that we dispel all thoughts and impulses of malice and ill will for they serve no good purpose and bring nothing but shame,” Sereno added.
While the members of the PWJA members applauded after her speech, her colleagues did not.
Sereno also argued that the quo warranto petition had no basis.
“Indeed, I look at any forum to try me other than the constitutionally-exclusive forum of impeachment as an admission by the complainant and my other detractors that after 15 hearings, they have failed to come up with any evidence with which I can be convicted in the Senate,” she said.
Sereno’s spokesperson welcomed the House panel’s decision on probable cause, which they insisted should be the proper proceeding to remove the Chief Justice from her post.
Lawyer Jojo Lacanilao said the decision of the House justice committee was already “expected” since it has already prejudged the case at the outset of the proceedings.
“We actually anticipated that. In fact, it was anti-climactic since many months ago the leadership of the committee was saying it’s a done deal... and they have enough evidence to actually convict the Chief Justice,” he said.
Lacanilao said the development is actually favorable to them because now the House would take upon itself the burden to prove the impeachment charges in trial at the Senate.
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