SUPREME Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno on Friday urged politicians not to take advantage of the internal divisions at the tribunal and said her differences with the other justices could be fixed.
“You, politicians, please don’t meddle in what we want to do. If you think you are right and you have all the evidence, bring them out. But never pressure us. That is what judicial independence means,” she said during a forum of the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines.
“We are best left to settle internal problems on our own.”
Asked why former President Benigno Aquino III appointed her chief justice, Sereno replied, “Look, everybody knows how independent I am. I am no stooge or lackey.”
She also played down her lack of support from her colleagues, who are considering an unprecedented quo warranto petition that seeks to remove her from office on the basis that she was not qualified for the post in the first place.
“In any organization, there will be occasions when these kinds of problems will arise, but I’m sure when the dust settles, we will all come around again,” she said.
Meanwhile, Sereno also debunked allegations she has “hidden wealth” as being insinuated by her critics, due to her failure to comply with the requirement of the Judicial and Bar Council to submit her 10-year statement of assets, liabilities and net worth when she applied for the post in 2012.
“I have absolutely nothing to hide and cannot hide anything because what is disclosed in my SALNS is what there is,” Sereno said.
Working as a professor at the University of the Philippines would not make her rich or accumulate wealth, she stressed.
“You cannot accumulate wealth in UP. Their problem is unexplained poverty, not hidden wealth,” Sereno said.
At the 23rd national convention of the Philippine Women Judges Association on Thursday, Sereno discussed her impeachment case and hit out at her detractors.
Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, however, then stood up, took the microphone, and censured the chief justice for discussing her case, in violation of the sub judice rule.
Sereno again talked about her impending impeachment trial before the Senate and expressed optimism that she would clear her name.
“I am confident the baselessness of charges against me will come out,” she said.
She reiterated her call to be given her day in court to defend herself against the allegations in the impeachment complaint.
“Let the people see the evidence,” she said. “I have prepared for battle with the odds against me.”
Malacañang on Friday denied that Sereno was being “bullied” by President Rodrigo Duterte, saying the President has nothing to do with the call to impeach the chief Justice.
Palace Spokesman Harry Roque said there is no need for the President to “bully” Sereno because she is the one that did “a magnificent job” at alienating her own colleagues.
He said the President is merely allowing all legal process to remove her and the impeachment process is in accordance with the Constitution.
He also denied Sereno’s allegations that the President is the reason she is being removed from office.
“It is her colleagues who are saying she doesn’t deserve to be there,” Roque said in Filipino.
The chief justice, who is on leave to prepare for her defense, vowed not to give in to any kind of harassment and accused members of the House committee on justice of denying her rights
“If she’s being bullied’ whose harassing her? She’s the magistrate and yet no one sided on her,” Roque said.
The Palace official said her fate is now up to Congress.
Also on Friday, Leyte Rep. Vicente Veloso said Sereno’s failure to submit all of her statements of assets, liabilities and net worth to the Judicial Bar and Council as required was a matter of integrity.
Speaking on the ANC news channel, Veloso said the law requires government officials to “be of proven competence, integrity, probity and independence” even if candidates for the chief justice meet all the constitutional requirements.
“On the matter of integrity comes the question of SALN. It is mandated by the Constitution and the Anti-Graft Practices Act,” he said. With Rey Requejo
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