THE Office of the Solicitor General has been asked to also initiate a quo warranto petition against Supreme Court Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo de Castro on the same ground that it used to seek the nullification of the appointment of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno as top magistrate.
In a four-page letter to Solicitor General Jose Calida, Jocelyn Maria Acosta asked the OSG to file a quo warranto petition against De Castro who, according to her, lacks integrity as a member of the 15-member bench.
“As a citizen of this country and as a taxpayer, I humbly request that the Solicitor General urgently initiate quo warranto proceedings against Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo-De Castro for lacking integrity as a member of the Supreme Court,” Acosta said.
Acosta is the founder of The Silent Majority, which supported the Liberal Party’s presidential tandem of Manuel Roxas II and Leni Robredo in the 2016 national elections.
Acosta cited records from the Judicial and Bar Council allegedly indicating that De Castro submitted only 15 of her Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth, over the course of her nearly four decades in government starting in 1973.
“Being in government service since 1973, Justice De Castro was bound to submit 39 SALNs, but failed to do so,” she said.
Acosta said De Castro, who also applied for the top position in the judiciary in 2012, along with Sereno, may have committed perjury when she said under oath during a Congressional inquiry that she met all the requirements of the Judicial and Bar Council.
In filing quo warrant case against Sereno, Calida accused the chief justice of lack of integrity for non-filing of the 10-year SALNs requirement when she applied for the top post in 2012.
Calida filed the quo warranto petition questioning the validity of Sereno’s appointment as chief justice after Eligio Mallari, a suspended lawyer, wrote him a letter urging him to initiate quo warranto proceedings.
The Sereno camp earlier said they have a total of 11 SALNs in hand as they recover more of the missing documents from Sereno’s 20 years as a law professor at the University of the Philippines.
“With due respect, I invoke the same grounds raised by Mr. Mallari in his letter as sufficient grounds for you to file a similar petition for quo warranto against Justice De Castro,” Acosta said, in her letter to Calida.
“I anticipate that you would act with the same zeal as you did when you received the letter of attorney Mallari in February 2018,” Acosta added.
The Supreme Court is expected to resolve the quo warranto petition when it convenes a special en banc session next month.
De Castro was one of the five SC justices that Sereno wanted to inhibit from the quo warranto case allegedly for being biased and harboring “animosity” towards her. But the five justices denied her motion.
In an interview, Acosta admitted to supporting the fight of Sereno, who is facing ouster moves not only through quo warranto proceedings, but also through impeachment in Congress.
However, Acosta clarified that she filed the letter with the Office of the Solicitor General in her capacity as a private individual.
“I want to highlight that this is not about whom you support but the Pandora’s box they opened,” she said.
Meanwhile, Solicitor General Jose Calida on Friday reiterated its call for the Supreme Court to nullify the appointment of Sereno for failing to comply with the requirement of the JBC for applicants to submit their 10-year SALNs.
In an 81-page memorandum, Calida said that Sereno failed the integrity test for failure to comply with all the requirements of the JBC when she applied for the top judicial post.
The solicitor general also argued that that the chief justice should be measured by the same yardstick used for other public officials.
“She cannot be excused from complying with the law by claiming that one cannot acquire ill-gotten wealth in UP. If lowly court employees could be penalized for failing to file SALNs, there is no reason why she should be considered eligible for appointment to the highest post in the judiciary,” Calida said. “She can be measured by the same yardstick.”
Calida insisted that Sereno’s non-compliance with the SALN requirement when she applied for the Chief Justice post has made her appointment void.
On Friday, Sereno urged her colleagues to dismiss the quo warranto petition against her.
In her 137-page memorandum, Sereno disputed Calida’s allegation, saying she had actually presented “substantial evidence” proving that she religiously filed all her UP SALNs as required under the applicable SALN laws.
The chief justice said that on at least three occasions—March 30, 2000, Nov. 1, 2003, and June 1, 2006—the UP Human Resources Development Office (HRDO) cleared her of all administrative responsibilities and accountabilities, including the filing of SALNs.
Sereno saidthat she never received any compliance order or show cause order from the UP HRDO or from any official of the university directing her to file her SALN for a particular year, or to correct or revise any of the SALNs she had filed.
“The Chief Justice was also not required to file SALNs during the years when she was on leave and did not receive compensation as a U.P. Professor (i.e., the years 2001, 2004, 2005, and 2006),” the memorandum stated.
Considering that she already has proof that she executed or filed 12 SALNs, she was actually missing only four SALNs for the years she was required to file the same and these were 1992, 2000, 2003 and 2006.
Calida’s quo warranto petition was based on his claim that Sereno did not file UP SALNs and that she failed to meet the constitutional requirement of proven integrity when she failed to submit her UP SALNs to the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) in 2012.
But the chief justice said the failure to file one’s SALN, or to submit the same to the JBC, had no bearing or relationship to her integrity.
SALNs are not among the documents which the JBC considers “evidence of integrity” under Section 1, Rule 4 of the JBC Rules, she said.
From the time of its creation in 1987 and for over 20 years thereafter, the JBC did not require applicants for positions in the judiciary to submit their SALNs, she said.
“The submission of SALNs was simply among the additional documents which the JBC had required of applicants for the position of Chief Justice,” Sereno said.
Besides, no member of the JBC objected to her inclusion in the shortlist submitted to Malacañang, despite having had 11 chances to object to her candidacy on the ground of her failure to submit her UP SALNs, the top magistrate argued.
Sereno said she had also sufficiently explained in her July 23, 2012 letter to the JBC why she could not submit her UP SALNs. At the time, she said that since most of her government records in the academe were more than 15 years old, it was reasonable to consider it infeasible to retrieve all of those files.
She also cited the June 1, 2006 certification of UP HRDO that “cleared her of all academic/administrative responsibilities, money and property accountabilities and from administrative charges.”
At the same time, Sereno maintained that the SC must dismiss the quo warranto case for lack of jurisdiction, citing the 1987 Constitution and established jurisprudence stating that the highest officials of the land may only be removed through impeachment.
The Chief Justice also said that the JBC, not the SC, which has the authority to determine the qualifications of candidates for judicial posts.
“Whether the Chief Justice was a person of proven integrity when she applied for the position of Chief Justice, is a political question outside the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court,” Sereno said.
Retired Chief Justice Reynato Puno said the decision of the Supreme Court on the quo warranto petition against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes would be more acceptable to the people if it is based on law and jurisprudence and not seen as politically driven.
Puno stressed that the quo warranto proceedings against Sereno is a case of “first impression” because it is the first time that the validity of the appointment of a sitting chief justice is being challenged.