MANILA – The camp of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno is bracing for what is calls “possible escalation” of the vilification campaign against her after efforts to pin her down on numerous charges failed to prosper during several hearings conducted by the House Committee on Justice last year.
Lawyer Jojo Lacanilao, one of Sereno’s spokespersons, pointed out: “Not a single impeachable offense was proven during the hearings, which even saw four incumbent and retired Supreme Court justices testifying before the justice panel.
“We expect her detractors to intensify their smear campaign against the Chief Justice to cover up for the fatally defective impeachment case. It is our position that if there is a strong case against the Chief Justice, it should have long been elevated to the Senate for trial,” Lacanilao said.
“Not even the testimonies of the justices, which pertain to differences in opinion with respect to internal processes of the Supreme Court, were enough to prove that the Chief Justice committed an impeachable offense that would warrant her removal from office,” he added.
At the same time, Lacanilao criticized Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez for making it appear that it was Sereno’s choice not to participate in the impeachment proceedings.
“We have to remember that the Chief Justice accepted the invitation of the committee to attend the hearings through her counsel, which is her right under their own rules and the Constitution, but the committee did not allow her to be represented by her counsels of choice and to cross examine the complainant and the witnesses through her lawyers,” Lacanilao said.
According to Lacanilao, the Chief Justice fully respected the process by filing an 85-page answer and rejoinder without asking for an extension even though the period given her was only 10 days.
Sereno also did not interpose any objection to the release of all documents, he said. “In fact, she informed the Supreme Court that the documents should be released. She also did not question or oppose the invitations to the Supreme Court for its employees to appear and testify.”
“Unfortunately, while the Chief Justice respected the process, the committee ignored its own rules and violated her constitutionally guaranteed rights,” Lacanilao said.
Lacanilao, meanwhile, maintained that the report about the 10 justices testifying at the impeachment hearing was part of a “psywar campaign” to condition the mind of the public and make it appear that the Chief Justice is losing support among her colleagues in the high tribunal.
“Again, this is part and parcel of a propaganda designed to project that Chief Justice does not enjoy the support of her colleagues in the Supreme Court, which is actually not the case,” he said.
Lacanilao deplored insinuations that these justices are testifying “against” the Chief Justice, when in fact, the testimonies of some of the justices may not even be against her.
Three sitting magistrates – Associate Justices Teresita Leonardo De Castro, Francis Jardeleza and Noel Tijam – have already appeared before the justice committee. Invitations have been sent to Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, and Associate Justices Samuel Martires and Mariano Del Castillo.
“It is unfair to conclude that the justices who are invited to the coming hearings are testifying against the Chief Justice,” Lacanilao said.
Carpio, for instance, is expected to testify on the allegation that Sereno manipulated the shortlist of the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) to exclude then Solicitor General Jardeleza.
It was Carpio who complained about Jardeleza’s deletion of the Itu Aba discussions in the Philippine submissions to the United Nations tribunal that heard and decided the arbitration case filed by the Philippines against China over the issue of West Philippine Sea.
Carpio’s main contention was that Jardeleza had seriously compromised the Philippine interests in deleting the country’s position that Itu Aba is not an island but a rock. If the arbitral tribunal did not rule on this, Itu Aba would be the basis for China to encroach on Philippine territory.
Jardeleza’s stand on the issue gave Sereno, as JBC ex-officio chair, reasonable grounds to doubt his integrity and moral fitness to become a member of the highest court of the land.
Meanwhile, Del Castillo has been invited to explain why the High Court purchased a security vehicle for the Chief Justice since he was the one who recommended to the en banc the purchase of the vehicle.
Martires, on the other hand, will testify merely on his decision in the case involving the grant of survivorship benefits to spouses of deceased justices and judges, where the Chief Justice voted with him.