Justice panel chair: Sereno took upon herself SC power

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House justice panel chair Rep. Reynaldo Umali said there was an apparent misrepresentation of the high court. (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 30) — The chairman of the House justice panel said Tuesday Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno may have taken the Supreme Court's powers upon herself.

"She arrogated upon herself the power which is vested in one Supreme Court. 'Yun 'yung complaint no. That is something that the members of the Supreme Court did not like," Rep. Reynaldo Umali told CNN Philippines News Night.

Umali cited Article 8 of the 1987 Constitution, that the power of the high court rests on the institution as a whole.

"It is very clear the power is in a collegial body and not just the Chief Justice, and she is just enjoying the primus inter pare (first among equals) role in a judicial body," Umali added.

During the House panel's impeachment hearings Wednesday, Associate Justice Teresita De Castro claimed Wednesday that Sereno issued an administrative order creating a new office called the Judiciary Decentralized Office (JDO) to replace the Regional Court Administration Office (RCAO) in Region 7 or Central Visayas.

De Castro claimed the chief justice, through the JDO launch, "misled" the other justices, and set aside the high court's en banc decision.

Umali said there was an apparent misrepresentation of the high court because Sereno made it appear that the decision was approved by the en banc.

"There was some kind of misrepresentation, to a certain extent, falsification of that resolution that was certified correct by the clerk of court," the House panel chair added.

READ: Chief Justice denies issuing order without en banc approval

Umali then said the panel is looking into a possible violation of Article 171 of the Revised Penal Code because of the alleged falsification of documents.

"Sa ngayon ang naririnig pa lang namin na merong personal knowledge, 'yung witness, is itong actually, usurpation of power of the collegial body," he said.

[Translation: Right now, what we're seeing that the witness has personal knowledge is actually usurpation of power of the collegial body.]

He then said this may be one of the strongest cases against Sereno.

"Pero maaga pa para mag-conclude tayo niyan," he claimed.

[Translation: But it's still too early to conclude.]

But Atty. Jojo Lacanilao, in a statement Wednesday, claimed that there was no misrepresentation, as the JDO and RCAO are "one and the same."

"They are different only by name. An office is defined by its duties, functions and purposes rather than the person assigned to lead it or by the name which it carries," Lacanilao said.

Sereno's decision on the RCAO was one of the acts cited in lawyer Lorenzo Gadon's complaint as "culpable violation of the Constitution," a ground for impeachment under the 1987 Constitution.

Gadon also accused the chief magistrate of corruption, betrayal of public trust, and other high crimes.

Sereno had repeatedly denied the accusations.