June 24, 2018, 12:52 pm
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Colleagues gang up on Sereno

CHIEF Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno’s colleagues in the Supreme Court have joined forces in decrying her alleged penchant for acting alone on matters that should have been decided by the 15-man Supreme Court en banc.

“The Chief Justice is not the Supreme Court,” Associate Justice Noel Tijam told the impeachment hearing of the House committee on justice chaired by Rep. Reynaldo Umali (PDP-Laban, Oriental Mindoro) yesterday.

Unlike the chief of a tribe in a community, the chief of a conglomerate, the chief of a group of companies, “the Chief Justice cannot overrule, supersede or cancel the decision of the en banc,” Tijam said.

Tijam attended the impeachment hearing with fellow Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo-De Castro who testified for the second time, and Associate Justice Francis Jardeleza.

Retired SC associate justice Arturo Brion also attended the hearing, which is in the process of determining if the impeachment complaint against Sereno has probable cause to merit a trial by the Senate.

Tijam, President Duterte’s first appointee in the High Court, testified on complainant Larry Gadon’s allegation that Sereno delayed the resolution of the urgent request of the Department of Justice (DOJ) for the transfer of cases involving Maute terrorists to courts outside Mindanao.

He confirmed Gadon’s claim that Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre’s May 29 request was not taken up in the en banc meeting last June 6 but was discussed over lunch after the session.

“The lunch is attended by the members of the court but not all members are present. I don’t know how many members were present, but there is distinct difference during the discussion in en banc session and over lunch,” he said.

Tijam denied Gadon’s claim that he was the member-in-charge “but I acted more promptly by circulating a memorandum to the en banc and trying to force a vote.”

“But the point is, regardless of the thoughts, the sentiments, the feelings of the chief justice, she should’ve  taken the initiative of bringing it to the attention of the en banc, because after all, it is the en banc that will decide on the matter,” he said.

Clerk of Court Felipa Anama earlier told the panel that the request was no longer raffled off to any member of the High Court pursuant to the rules after Sereno unilaterally assumed jurisdiction over it.

Aguirre made the urgent request last May 29 while the Supreme Court was still in recess but Sereno assumed jurisdiction over the matter on June 6.

The request was supposed to be raffled off on June 19 but was not since it was already with Sereno, who was among the three magistrates against President Duterte’s martial law declaration in Mindanao.

The SC en banc later issued a resolution on June 6 reflecting the supposed decision that was reached by the court during lunch.

“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.

‘NO RESPECT’

De Castro said Sereno’s actions from the time that she assumed her position “showed no respect or courtesy to the court en banc.”

“On my part, I have been calling the attention of the CJ for five years now, but until now it has not stopped. Until when are we going to endure this?” she told the panel.

By the time that Sereno’s term ends in 2030, she will have served the Judiciary for 18 years – the second longest in the SC history.

Brion recalled how Sereno made it difficult for then Solicitor General Jardeleza to be included in the shortlist for SC nominees.

“I gave a very harsh judgment. It was malicious. The Chief Justice manipulated the JBC (Judicial and Bar Council) proceedings to exclude Jardeleza in what we call the JBC shortlist to be submitted to the Office of the President,” he related.

Brion said: “These small droplets (of grievances) turn into currents. These currents, in the end, turn into floods. It’s like you’re irked and annoyed at the start and it turns into anger and later on becomes hatred.”

He said “due process cannot be discretionary on the part of any instrumentality of government.”

Gadon is accusing Sereno of culpable violation of the Constitution for allegedly manipulating the shortlist of the JBC to exclude then Solicitor General Jardeleza “for personal and political reasons, thereby disgracing then Sol. Gen. Jardeleza, and curtailing the President’s power to appoint him.”

“To my mind, they are both possible and plausible,” Jardeleza said, when asked to comment on Sereno’s act.

Jardeleza said he and his fellow justices testified so “the people will have continued faith that the en banc, at least the members, and the en banc in its entirety stand for the rule of law.”

Sereno opposed Jardeleza’s nomination on integrity issues in his handling of the West Philippine Sea arbitration case.

SERENO DENIES RAPS 

Sereno’s camp denied she manipulated the JBC to block the nomination of Jardeleza to the High Court in 2014.

Lawyer Jojo Lacanilao, one of the spokespersons of Sereno, said Sereno was just performing her duty as a JBC member when she registered her “good faith” opposition to Jardeleza’s nomination after she evaluated and verified reports on his stand in the case filed by the Philippine government against China before the Netherlands-based Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2013.

Jardeleza was the solicitor general when the Aquino administration decided to bring China to the arbitral tribunal to challenge its excessive claims in the West Philippine Sea.

“Justice Jardeleza was excluded because he did not obtain the unanimous vote required under Section 2, Rule 10 of JBC-009,” Lacanilao said in a statement.

He said that when Sereno learned of the reports on Jardeleza’s stand on the arbitral case, it gave “her reasonable grounds to doubt his integrity and moral fitness to become a member of the highest court of the land.”

Lacanilao said Jardeleza was also given the chance to air his side when he appeared before the JBC before he was excluded from the list.

“The minutes of the executive session held on June 30, 2014 would show that then Solicitor General Jardeleza was in fact given the opportunity to explain his side, which opportunity he refused to take on account of his position that he is entitled to a statement in writing of the charges against him,” he added.

Jardeleza took his case to the SC and asked that it compel the JBC to include him in the shortlist of nominees to take over the post of retiring Associate Justice Roberto Abad. Malacañang supported Jardeleza’s bid and even filed a comment with the SC.

The SC, with seven justices voting in favor, decided to include his name in the shortlist.

COMPLAINANT, PROSECUTOR, JUDGE

De Castro said a JBC member “cannot be an oppositor and at the same time be an independent judge on the qualification of that candidate nor that of other candidates for the same post.”

“Not having inhibited from the JBC proceedings, Chief Justice Sereno acted as a complainant, prosecutor, and judge against Solicitor General Jardeleza,” De Castro said, adding that Sereno should have inhibited herself from the selection process.

Gadon said in the complaint that Sereno manipulated the JBC processes to exclude Jardeleza when she made “a last-minute objection to the inclusion of Justice Jardeleza in the list of nominees after he got the required number of votes needed to be shortlisted. Respondent Sereno questioned Justice Jardeleza’s integrity, calling into play the ‘unanimity requirement,’ i.e., the voting requirements for inclusion in the list of nominees becomes unanimous instead of the usual majority vote.”

“Not having the unanimous vote of the JBC, Justice Jardeleza was not included in the list of nominees,” the complaint said.

Jardeleza subsequently filed a petition before the Supreme Court, seeking to compel the JBC to include him in the list of nominees. – With Ashzel Hachero
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