MANILA – The camp of Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno on Monday said she will not sign a waiver on bank secrecy since it was submitted to the Supreme Court (SC) in connection with the impeachment complaint filed against her by Atty. Lorenzo Gadon before the House Justice committee.
Gadon earlier called on the Chief Justice to sign a waiver to allow investigative bodies to examine her bank assets amid charges of hidden wealth.
Atty. Josa Deinla, one of the Sereno’s spokespersons, said the Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Networth (SALN) submitted by Sereno to the SC already included a waiver allowing the Office of the Ombudsman and other bodies to examine the Chief Justice’s assets.
“That (waiver) is no longer necessary because the standard form of SALN authorizes the Ombudsman and other investigative bodies to conduct an examination,” Deinla told reporters in a press conference in Manila.
Deinla insisted that the impeachment complaint against Sereno has no basis in the Constitution to warrant a trial.
“This is a waste of time, this is a waste of energy, this is a distraction,” she said.
Among the allegations in the impeachment complaint against the Sereno is her failure to declare in her SALN from 2010 to 2016 the P30 million she earned as one of the private counsels of government in the arbitration case involving the expropriation of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3 .
In 2010 when she was appointed associate justice of the SC, Sereno declared a net worth of P17.7 million — almost half only of the P30-million pay she got from the NAIA 3 case. Bulk of the amount is the worth of her real properties and vehicles. Only P1.5 million was declared as cash in bank and P1.5 million as investments.
In her 2016 SALN, Sereno’s net worth grew to P24.2 million.
Senate review welcomed
The Sereno camp welcomed the move of the Senate to start reviewing the impeachment trial rules even pending the proceedings in the House of Representatives.
Lawyer Aldwin Salumbides, one of the spokespersons for Sereno’s defense, said the disclosure of Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III that they are now reviewing the chamber’s impeachment trial rules was actually a sign of “good leadership.”
“It only shows the ability of our senators to be pro-active. I think there is nothing wrong with preparing for such possibilities,” Salumbides told reporters during the press conference.
Pimentel earlier told Sereno’s camp that the Senate was reviewing its impeachment trial rules to ensure it would be more than just a numbers game.
He gave assurances that the conclusion of the Senate, sitting as impeachment court, is supported by evidence.
Earlier, Gadon welcomed the latest decision of the House committee on justice finding sufficiency of grounds for impeachment of Sereno via a 25-2 vote despite the answers submitted by her camp.
“This development has demonstrated the fact that the case is strong and that the arguments of the Sereno camp are weak. I am very positive that the impeachment complaint will be transmitted to the Senate soon with overwhelming votes by the members of the House in a plenary voting,” the lawyer added.
Duterte as special prosecutor? No way
Meanwhile, Deinla also opposed Gadon’s pronouncement saying President Rodrigo Duterte may serve as special private prosecutor during the impeachment trial.
Deinla insisted that the President is not allowed by any law to act as such during the impeachment trial.
“It will be an encroachment on the exclusive power of the House of Representatives to act as prosecutors in the impeachment trial,” Deinla said.
“The president has no role in such political exercise,” Salumbides added.
Last Thursday, the House justice committee found sufficient grounds in the impeachment complaint against Sereno.
A total of 25 lawmakers voted in favor of Misamis Occidental Rep. Henry Oaminal’s motion to approve the sufficiency of the grounds for impeachment against the top magistrate. Only two lawmakers voted against it.
“The complaint alleges sufficient ground for impeachment and thereafter we will now move to the next stage which is the determination of probable cause,” committee chair Reynaldo Umali said.
The impeachment complaint filed by Gadon contains four grounds for impeachment including culpable violation of the Constitution, corruption, other high crimes, and betrayal of public trust. It also alleged 27 acts constituting the offenses charged.
Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman recommended discussing the grounds of the impeachment complaint separately.
Umali, however, reiterated that the committee will apply the totality rule in deliberating on the impeachment complaint.