ASSOCIATE Justice Francis Jardeleza on Monday accused Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno of treason for trying to block his appointment to the Supreme Court owing to his objection on the issue of West Philippine Sea—one of four Associate Justices who testified against her at the resumption of impeachment proceedings against her Monday.
At the impeachment hearing, Jardeleza accused Sereno of obtaining and using “illegally secured” top-secret document on the issue and used it as basis for Jardeleza’s rejection in the shortlist of SC appointees in 2014.
The “top-secret” document was Jardeleza’s March 2014 memorandum which cited reasons to exclude the Taiwanese-occupied Itu Aba from Manila’s arbitration case against China.
“I was accused of being disloyal, of being a Judas to our country. But, in my view, it is the Chief Justice who acted disloyally, who was a Judas to our country. Why would she use this top-secret document, what for?” Jardeleza said.
“She was not involved in the arbitration. The document she used was illegally secured,” Jardeleza said, saying the memorandum was intended to inform President Benigno Simeon Aquino III of the “legal implications and risks” of having Itu Aba included in the arbitration case.
“Our case is a purely executive department activity. The judiciary is not included. The question is, how did it reach the Chief Justice? Who gave it to her?” he added.
Jardeleza said that Sereno’s objection was merely “a difference of opinion… on an executive matter.”
Jardeleza explained that including Itu Aba in the arbitration case would be risky for it may be recognized as an “island.”
“As they say, the rest is history. Good thing we won,” Jardeleza said.
Neverthess, he said: “While the case is pending, why would I be called a traitor to the motherland? In my opinion, you [Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno] were the one who committed treason. You even used a top-secret document without impunity. You even aired to the public the disagreement in the legal team.”
This developed as two other incumbent Associate Justices and a retired Associate Justice denounced Sereno’s unilateral decision over an en banc decision pertaining to the transfer of Maute cases.
At the resumption of the impeachment proceeding conducted by the House Committee on Justice, Associate Justices Noel Tijam, Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, and retired associate justice Arturo Brion, also attended the hearing and testified against Sereno.
Tijam told the House justice panel that Sereno not only failed to act promptly on the request of the Department of Justice to transfer the venue of trial of cases against members of the Maute terrorist group but also kept the court en banc in the dark on crucial information that could have allowed speedy disposition of the case.
“The Chief Justice is not the Supreme Court. In other words, unlike the chief of a tribe in a community, the chief of a conglomerate, the chief of a group of companies, Sereno could not overrule, supersede or cancel the decision of the en banc,” Tijam said as he urged Sereno to attend the impeachment proceedings to explain her side.
De Castro, who earlier testified at the House justice panel’s impeachment proceeding, denounced Sereno’s unilateral action without consulting the en banc.
“I believe that the actions done by the chief justice from the time that she resumed her position showed no respect or courtesy to the court en banc,” De Castro said.
Impeachment complaint lawyer Larry Gadon alleged that Sereno committed culpable violation of the Constitution when she manipulated and delayed resolution of Aguirre’s request on the transfer of venue of Maute cases.
Tijam said on June 13, Aguirre sent the SC a letter seeking reconsideration of the June 6 resolution. The next day, the Office of the Court Administrator issued a report and recommendation to transfer the Maute cases out of Mindanao.
“These are letters which we came to know after the fact. The Chief Justice never submitted these letters to the en banc,” Tijam said.
Tijam said being chief justice did not mean having absolute powers because even the matter of purchase of vehicle, as well as the matter of going on official leave, had to be submitted to the en banc.
Tijam also said while Aguirre submitted the initial request for the transfer of the Maute cases outside of Mindanao as early as May 29, 2017 for security reasons, the court en banc actually granted it only on Aug. 8, 2017.
“It is important for the en banc to consider matters of urgency. And we can only consider these matters of urgency if the en banc is given full information, immediate information, complete information,” Tijam said.
He claimed that the SC had been penalizing judges and court personnel for inordinate delay in acting on matters assigned to them so the high court must hold itself to an even higher standard.
On May 31, 2017 Court Administrator Midas Marquez wrote a letter to Sereno supporting Aguirre’s request.
However, Tijam said the matter was not taken up in the en banc session on June 6, 2017.
Also, Tijam said on the same day he received a phone call from Sereno after the June 6 session informing him that the issue was taken up during lunch after the en banc session and that the members agreed to hold the trial in Cagayan De Oro City.
Yet, the SC en banc issued a resolution on June 6 reflecting the supposed decision that was reached by the court during lunch, he said.
“But there is distinct difference between discussing something important during the en banc session where you have the docket folders, you have the materials with you, and holding a caucus on an important matter where in front of you are forks, plates and food,” Tijam said.
Tijam clarified he was not the justice in charge of the case but he circulated his recommendation on it after the SC practically rejected Aguirre’s request to transfer the Maute cases out of Mindanao.
Jardeleza confirmed the transfer of Maute case was not taken up in the June 6 en banc session.
De Castro, a member of the raffle panel, said the case was not actually raffled off on June 5, which was inconsistent with Sereno’s claim that she was the member in charge of the case.
Brion also echoed a similar sentiment against Sereno.
“We are a very small group in the Supreme Court. ..You are getting what you want through these devious means that are not right,” Brion said.