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Monday, April 15, 2024

Three SC justices gang up on Sereno at House hearing

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THREE incumbent Supreme Court justices have dismissed the allegation of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno that the impeachment proceedings against her have undermined the independence of the judiciary.

The justices—Samuel Martires, Lucas Bersamin and Diosdado Peralta—appeared during Monday’s impeachment hearing by the House justice committee as resource persons in the impeachment case against Sereno filed by lawyer Lorenzo Gadon.

“We see this as part of the constitutional scheme, a reasonable exercise of your power to impeach,” Bersamin told lawmakers in response to the query of deputy speaker and South Cotabato Rep. Ferdinand Hernandez.

Peralta shared a similar view. “We are respecting the independence of Congress. Only you have the power to conduct impeachment proceedings so we respect your invitation [to attend the hearings]. Had you sent a subpoena, there could have been a clash [between the legislature and the judiciary],” he said in Filipino.

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prolonged issue.  Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno (center)  and other justices prepare for  the start of oral argument on the one-year extension of martial law in Mindanao at the Supreme Court. Norman Cruz

“I do not think I have undermined the judiciary; probably the TWG because my decision was against them. I came here because of that invitation and not to undermine the judiciary,” Martires said.

The three colleagues of Sereno also said they had no grudge against her and would not have testified voluntarily had they not been invited by the House Justice committee.

The appearance of the three justices brought to a total of seven—consisting of three incumbent and one retired—Supreme Court justices who testified in the impeachment proceedings against Sereno.

Earlier, incumbent SC Justices Teresita Leonardo de Castro, Noel Tijam, Francis Jardeleza retired SC Justice Arturo Brion, broke tradition and testified before the committee.

The three SC justices tagged the creation of two Technical Working Groups attributed to Sereno as the cause of inordinate delays in approval of claims for benefits of surviving spouses of justices and judges.

In his complaint, Gadon accused Sereno of culpable violation of the Constitution in delaying the court’s action, by as long as two years, on various petitions for benefits of justices, judges and surviving spouses of deceased member of the bench.

Gadon said the two TWGs were headed by Sereno’s lawyer.

Earlier, Court Administrator Midas Marquez reiterated his testimony that before the creation of the two TWGs the SC had approved 271 petitions for retirement and survivorship benefits and the process normally took only two to three weeks to complete.

After the TWGs were created, Marquez said conflicting recommendations caused delays of about two years in processing 29 such applications for benefits. At least one claimant died before the claim was approved, he added.

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