MANILA — The camp of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno on Tuesday said that the testimonies of the magistrates of the Supreme Court (SC) before the House justice committee hearing on the impeachment complaint against her were purely based on personal opinions and could not be used as grounds to remove her from the judiciary’s top post.
“Their testimonies reflected personal opinions of the justices on matters already decided by the Supreme Court en banc. Their statements did not prove that the allegations against the Chief Justice were impeachable offenses, ” lawyer Jojo Lacanilao, one of Sereno’s spokespersons, said in a statement.
Lacanilao was referring to the testimonies of Associate Justices Teresita Leonardo De Castro, Noel Tijam and Francis Jardeleza and retired Associate Justice Arturo Brion.
During Monday’s hearing, Tijam said Sereno is “mentally dishonest” while Brion accused her of committing misrepresentations in support of the earlier allegation of De Castro.
Lacanilao, however, expressed alarm over the seeming “misrepresentations” meant to mislead the general public and the Justice Committee hearing on the impeachment case.
“It is unfortunate that their (justices) perspectives were colored by their personal sentiments,” he lamented.
The Associate Justices testified on the allegations that Sereno “manipulated” the shortlist of the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) submitted to former President Benigno Aquino III to exclude then Solicitor General Jardeleza and delayed the resolution on the request of Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre to transfer the trial of Maute cases from Mindanao to Taguig City.
“We do not see the point of raising these issues again. That’s all water under the bridge. Justice Jardeleza was appointed by President Aquino. The SC en banc resolved to grant Secretary Aguirre’s request,” Lacanilao stressed.
In the course of his testimony, Jardeleza accused Sereno of committing treason for divulging his confidential position on the Itu Aba, the largest feature in the disputed Spratly group of islands, in the arbitration case filed by the Philippines against China over the issue of the West Philippine Sea.
It was Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio who complained about Jardeleza’s deletion of the Itu Aba discussions in the Philippine submissions to the arbitration tribunal.
The main contention was that Jardeleza had seriously compromised the Philippine interests in deleting the country’s position that Itu Aba was not an island but a rock. History proved Jardeleza wrong. Had the tribunal not ruled on this, Itu Aba would be the basis of China to encroach into Philippine territory.
With the reinsertion of Itu Aba, the Philippines won and the arbitration panel unanimously ruled it was not an island capable of claiming its own exclusive economic zone. This secured the country’s exclusive economic rights to Reed Bank and Malampaya and to the fisheries, oil and gas, and mineral resources in the area.
That is why when Jardeleza deleted the Itu Aba portion in the memorandum submitted by the Philippines to the United Nations that sought to challenge China’s claims in the West Philippine Sea, he undermined the country’s legal claim and territorial integrity.
According to Lacanilao, Jardeleza’s actions on the arbitration case became the subject of Justice Carpio’s testimony before the JBC and the Chief Justice’s decision to question Jardeleza’s integrity before the JBC, which was then deliberating on the nomination of Jardeleza and other candidates for the lone vacancy in the high court.
Lacanilao said it was absurd to accuse the Chief Justice of treason for doing her constitutional duty as ex-officio chair of the JBC.
“The Chief Justice did not commit treason. What constitutes acts of treason are defined in the Revised Penal Code, and none of the actions of the Chief Justice, as alleged by Justice Jardeleza, fall under these acts. When Senior Justice Carpio brought to her attention the Itu Aba case, as member of the JBC, she was duty bound to raise the matter and she did,” he explained.
Jardeleza was eventually included in the shortlist and appointed by President Aquino following an SC decision favoring his petition against the JBC.
With respect to the transfer of the Maute cases, Lacanilao said the facts of the case would contradict Tijam’s claims that the Chief Justice did not consult the en banc.
Lacanilao pointed out that Aguirre did not file a petition as he merely wrote a letter addressed to Sereno that was received last May 29.
On the same day, the letter was referred to Court Administrator Jose Midas Marquez and Assistant Court Administrator Theodore Te for recommendations.
On June 5, all justices—including Tijam and De Castro—received the Aguirre letter, recommendations and a draft resolution. The next day, the en banc issued the resolution.
“Notably, Justice Tijam affirmed that the Chief Justice was the member-in-charge of the Maute cases, contrary to Gadon’s perjurious claims. If the Chief Justice did not consult the en banc, then why did no one question the June 6 Resolution?” Lacanilao pointed out.
He also noted that De Castro, as head of the Raffle Committee, signed the minutes of the committee where the Maute case was assigned to the Chief Justice.
“Why they would raise a settled matter to which they assented to reflects on the intentions behind their belated complaints,” Lacanilao said.