CA justice: Sereno intervention in 'Ilocos 6' case shows 'lack of delicadeza'

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 23) — Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno showed a "lack of delicadeza" when she advised justices of the Court of Appeals (CA) how to handle their standoff with lawmakers in June 2017, an associate justice said.

CA Associate Justice Remedios Salazar Fernando said Sereno asked the CA justices to bring to the Supreme Court the legal tussle over the detention of six Ilocos Norte government employees accused of misusing tobacco funds. The CA ordered their release, but the Congress defied the appellate court's ruling saying it has no jurisdiction over the matter.

Read more: SC, CA ask Congress to recall show cause order against 3 justices

"For me personally, I found it lack of delicadeza, lack of propriety" on the part of the chief magistrate, Fernando told the House Committee on Justice on Tuesday. The committee resumed examining probable cause in the impeachment complaint against the Chief Justice.

In the impeachment case, Sereno is accused of committing high crimes "when she obstructed and perverted justice by meeting the Presiding Justice and Associate Justices of the Court of Appeals and instructing them not to comply with the processes of the House of Representatives and to immediately question the same before the Supreme Court."

Fernando confirmed Sereno met with then Presiding Justice Andres Reyes Jr. in June 2017, but said no other justice was present. Reyes is now a Supreme Court Associate Justice.

Reyes supposedly called an emergency meeting on June 21, informing the other justices of his "very short meeting" with Sereno. It was Sereno who initiated the meeting, Fernando said.

"They talked about the Ilocos Six case. According to our presiding justice, he was given assurance by the Chief Justice that the Chief Justice and the Supreme Court will protect the Court of Appeals," Fernando said.

"According again to our presiding justice in his talk with the chief justice, she advised the three justices to file a petition before the Supreme Court with a TRO and siya na daw bahala (she will take care of it)," she added.

Fernando, however, stressed he had no personal knowledge of Reyes' meeting with Sereno and she was just quoting Reyes.

This would make Fernando's statements "hearsay for now," House Committee on Justice Chair Reynaldo Umali said. He said these will be clarified when Reyes attends the next hearing on January 29.

But Rep. Ching Veloso, a former CA associate justice, said Fernando's testimony is still an "independent relevant statement."

"Ang Chief Justice ay nawalan po ng impartiality sa kasong ito (The Chief Justice lost impartiality in this case) in violation of the code on judicial conduct," Veloso said.

Rep. Bingbong Crisologo said it was clear Sereno intervened in the case.

"The Chief Justice even though the case was not yet in the Supreme Court, intervened already,

When asked if Sereno committed any violation, Fernando said, "Propriety dictates your honor that it should not be the case."

The "Ilocos 6" were detained in the lower house complex when they refused to answer questions on the procurement of P66.45-million worth of vehicles by the Ilocos provincial government through the province's tobacco excise tax shares.

Umali insisted they should be called "Amnesiac 6" instead.

The CA ordered the release of the provincial employees on June 9, 2017, but Congress issued a show cause order against the CA justices instead. House Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas said the CA has no authority over Congress.

The House on July 25 ordered the release of the "Ilocos 6" after answering questions during the hearing. They were detained for 55 days.

Sereno's alleged intervention in the case is among the grounds being cited for her to be impeached. She is accused of violating the Constitution, corruption, betrayal of public trust, and other high crimes.

Sereno denied the allegations, and asked for the complaint to be junked.

CNN Philippines' Joyce Ilas contributed to this report.