Sereno says other SC Justices lack SALNs as well

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 20) — Embattled Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno on Monday defended her supposed incomplete Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN).

In her 130-page comment and annexes on Solicitor General Jose Calida's petition seeking to oust her, Sereno said the submission of SALNs to the Judicial Bar and Council (JBC) was not an "absolute requirement" for those vying for chief justice.

Sereno said she was not the only candidate for the position who did not submit all asset declarations to the Judicial and Bar Council. Despite this, they were found by the JBC to have been in "substantial compliance" with that documentary requirement.

Calida is questioning Sereno's appointment over her alleged failure to file complete SALNs when she taught at the University of the Philippines from 1986 to 2006.

In her response, Sereno specifically named fellow justices, Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio and Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo-De Castro, and retired Justices Arturo Brion and Roberto Abad among those who failed to submit one or more SALNs. They were all included in the SC Chief shortlist.

Both De Castro and Brion testified against Sereno at the House impeachment hearings.

Sereno also pointed out that of the 20 candidates considered for the Chief Justice post in 2012, 14 failed to submit all of their SALNs while in government service.

"Nevertheless, they were reconsidered to have 'substantially complied' with the SALN requirement, and hence were interviewed for the position," she said.

Sereno pointed out it's within the discretion of JBC to determine whether an applicant had complied with the requirement to submit SALNs.

"Moreover, the mere failure to submit SALNs to the JBC would not automatically have disqualified an applicant, especially if she could explain the reason for the non-submission," she added.

While a June 2012 JBC announcement said that applicants with incomplete or out of date papers will not be interviewed or considered for nomination, her response said the JBC later tasked the executive committee with determining whether an applicant had substantially complied with the submission of SALNs.

It also cited minutes of a July 20 JBC meeting where acting ex-officio Chairman Diosdado Peralta and Senator Chiz Escudero, who was then part of the JBC, tackled non-submission of documents.

During the meeting Peralta had said that in case of non-submission of documents "the JBC could ask the nominees during the interview as to the reason for their non-compliance."

Meanwhile, Escudero manifested that the candidates should inform them of their reason for failing to comply.

Escudero also mentioned Abad's name during the meeting, saying the retired justice had substantially complied with the requirement "for the reason that even if he lacks SALN for certain periods in the 80s, he submitted the rest of them."

"He [Escudero] commented that there is at least an attempt to comply with the particular requirement and it could be a parameter," it recounted.

Sereno said the JBC, whether in writing or orally through a follow-up or in the public interviews, never raised with her the matter of having submitted only three SALNs.

She added, based on JBC records from 2010 to 2012, the council had 300 candidates shortlisted for judicial posts despite their incomplete documentary requirements.

She said she submitted SALNs for 2009, 2010, and 2011 to the JBC as one of the nominees for the top magistrate post.

She also wrote to the JBC explaining why she could not submit her previous SALNs, considering that most of government records are more than 15 years old.

Sereno, however, has since renewed efforts to locate the rest of her SALNs she filed as UP professor.

"The Chief Justice has since then renewed earnest efforts to locate the rest of the SALNs she filed as a U.P. Professor. She has recovered most of the missing SALNs and will continue to look for the others," the comment read.

As for the details, Sereno said she would present all her recovered SALNs before the Senate impeachment court.

She appealed to her colleagues that ruling on her quo warranto case and preempting the impeachment process would be tantamount to overthrowing the Constitution.

The Chief Justice is on indefinite leave to prepare for the expected Senate trial. In a one-on-one interview with CNN Philippines, Sereno said she is ready to answer the issue of her SALNs and face the Senate impeachment court.

When asked about her preparations, Sereno said in an exclusive interview with CNN Philippines her team was "quite advanced [and] ready to go."

The House Committee on Justice, voting 33-1, approved on Monday the articles of impeachment against Sereno.

If at least one-third of the members of the House of Representatives vote to impeach Sereno, the complaint would go to trial at the Senate.