Sereno lawyer: Justices’ claims only opinions, not grounds for CJ’s impeachment

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 12) — The camp of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno claimed the testimonies of Supreme Court (SC) justices who appeared in the House panel proceedings were “purely personal opinions” and not grounds for impeachment.

“Their testimonies reflected personal opinions of the justices on matters already decided by the Supreme Court en banc,” said Atty. Jojo Lacanilao, one of Sereno’s spokespersons in a statement Tuesday. “Their statements did not prove that the allegations against the Chief Justice were impeachable offenses.”

Associate Justices Teresita Leonardo De Castro, Noel Tijam and Francis Jardeleza, and retired Associate Justice Arturo Brion testified before the House Committee on Justice on Monday.

Tijam, de Castro, and Jardeleza claimed the Chief Magistrate delayed the resolution on the May 29 request of Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre to transfer the hearing of Maute cases from Mindanao to Taguig City.

The Associate Justices also alleged Sereno manipulated the shortlist of the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) submitted to former President Benigno Aquino III to exclude then Solicitor General Jardeleza.

Lacanilao claimed that there is no point in raising the previous issues.

“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 hearing, Jardeleza accused Sereno of committing treason for releasing information on the Itu Aba, which the chief magistrate called the largest island in the Spratly group of islands. This was amid the pending arbitration case on the West Philippine Sea.

The associate justice said during his time as Solicitor General, the government’s stance was that Itu Aba is a rock.

“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,” Lacanilao explained.

Lacanilao claimed it was absurd to accuse Sereno of treason for doing her constitutional duty as ex-officio chair of the JBC.

With respect to the transfer of the Maute cases, Lacanilao said complainant Larry Gadon’s claims would oppose Tijam’s testimony that the Chief Justice did not consult the en banc.

“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.

Meanwhile, House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez said he personally believes the testimony of four SC justices were damning enough to establish probable cause against her.

Mabigat 'yung mga testimonies noong mga justices saka mga employees ng Supreme Court dahil papaano mo papasinungalingan 'yan?  First-hand information 'yan, sila talaga 'yung nakakaalam doon,” the Speaker explained in a press briefing Tuesday.

[Translation: The testimonies of the justices and employees of the Supreme Court are loaded. How can you lie about that? That’s first-hand information, they know this stuff.]

Alvarez also said that allegations of the House impeachment proceedings targeting to shame Sereno are “most unfair.”

Kasi dapat nating tandaan hindi naman namin inutusan si Atty. Gadon. Pinagagalitan nga namin minsan dahil hindi handa. Ginagawa lang namin 'yung tungkulin namin,” he added.

[Translation: Because we need to remember that Atty. Gadon was not ordered to file the complaint. We even call him out for not being prepared. We’re just doing our job.]

He said the House panel may finish the hearings by January next year.