De Castro, two more justices to testify against Sereno – impeachment complainant

enablePagination: false
maxItemsPerPage: 10
maxPaginationLinks: 10

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 4) — Three Supreme Court justices could be among the witnesses set to testify against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, the impeachment complainant said Monday.

Attorney Larry Gadon, who filed the impeachment complaint backed by 25 congressmen on August 30, told CNN Philippines' The Source that three justices were invited to provide their accounts with the House Committee on Justice.

"The first two are gentlemen, and possibly the third is a woman... Posibleng third si Justice De Castro, sabihin ko na [I'll say it, Justice De Castro might be the third]," said Gadon, referring to Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo-De Castro. He did not name the other two justices.

The Committee is expected to take up the impeachment complaint within 10 days. It then has 60 days to craft a resolution and 10 days to put the impeachment to a vote before the complaint is brought to the Senate.

In July this year, De Castro released a five-page memorandum asking colleagues in the Supreme Court the look into certain decisions and orders by Sereno.

She questioned vacancies that were yet to be filled up at the judiciary, the appointment of Attorney Brenda Jay Mendoza as head of Philippine Mediation Center under the Philippine Judicial Academy, and supposed travel allowances granted to her staff without permission of the en banc court.

De Castro also previously butted heads with Sereno after questioning Sereno's resolution to reopen the Regional Court Administration Office in 2012. The high court revoked the order as the decision was made without the approval of the other judges.

In his complaint, Gadon is accusing Sereno of betrayal of public trust, corruption, culpable violation of the Constitution, and other high crimes. High crimes covers allegations of misconduct specific to public officials.

Related: 25 solons endorse impeach rap vs. Chief Justice Sereno

Sereno has maintained her innocence. "I have done nothing wrong. Nothing can be proven against me that will show that the Chief Justice has betrayed her oath of office," she said in remarks in Cebu City on August 24.

Gadon said that a total of 42 congressmen expressed intrest in endorsing the complaint, including the 25 who had already signed. Endorsements from one-third of the representatives, or 98 congressmen, brings the complaint straight to the Senate.

One of the endorsers, Puwersa ng Bayaning Atleta (PBA) Party List Representative Jericho Nograles, maintained that he did not agree with all 28 charges Gadon listed against Sereno.

"I have to make this very clear. Not every charge that Atty. Gadon put forth I agree with... If this is a numbers game, and it is, all you need is one signature for one count," Nograles said.

"I believe the Complaint is sufficient in form. As for substance, sufficient for a few, but not all the charges. In the end, it will be a collective political decision of the House and the Senate," he added in a text message.

'37 million undeclared'

The impeachment complaint also claims Sereno earned P37 million (US$725,500) in lawyers' fees for representing the government in a controversial case against the Philippine International Air Terminals Co. Inc. (PIATCO) in 2003.

"It turned out that the total amount she received in that case is around 37 million. I have information. This will be backed by documents. There are ledgers and receipts," said Gadon.

While Gadon admitted he did not hold the documents proving his claim yet, he was confident they would be released to him.

He also maintains that these earnings were not listed in the Chief Justice's Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN).

Taxes should also have been paid for that amount of money, Nograles added.

"This talk has been going around since 2011, and maybe even beyond that. For me, as a legislator, it's time to give the Chief Justice a chance to clear the air," he said.

Meddling in arrest warrant?

One of the accusations Gadon listed was the alleged attempted intervention of Sereno in the issuance of an arrest warrant against administration critic Senator Leila De Lima.

"According to my informant... [Sereno] asked one of the officers of the Supreme Court to call the judges in Muntinlupa not to issue the warrants of arrest against Sen. Leila de Lima. And these judges refused," said Gadon.

De Lima has been detained at the Philippine National Police Custodial Center since February 2017 on charges of abetting the illegal drug trade.

P5-million vehicle

The impeachment complaint also accuses Sereno of an "extravagant and lavish lifestyle" due to the "purchase of a brand new luxurious Toyota Land Cruiser 2017 model as her personal vehicle, amounting to more than five million pesos."

"All the justices of the Supreme Court, and even the previous justices, ang mga kotse nila... mga 1.5 to 1.6 million [have cars that cost 1.5 to 1.6 million]," said Gadon.

However, the Supreme Court exercises fiscal autonomy, so the institution controls its own budget and expenses, without the approval of Congress.

Nograles said that it is therefore legal for the Chief Justice to make such a purchase, although it remains to be seen if such a purchase is politically acceptable amid a call for austerity.

"They are legally allowed to purchase that. However, is it politically allowed? There is a call for austerity... will Congress and the Senate allow the purchase of a land cruiser politically excessive?" said Nograles.

"I can't call it corruption, but there is a political question and this is a political process," he added.

Apart from President Rodrigo Duterte's urges for government officials to live simply, Article 11, Section 1 of the 1987 Consitution mandates that public officials should "lead modest lives."

Alleged manipulation of JBC

Finally, Gadon accused Sereno of playing favorites among potential appointees to the Sandiganbayan and manipulating the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) to accommodate her picks.

"Brinaso niya [She rubbed elbows with them]," said Gadon, referring to the members of the JBC.

"She clustered the nominations into six groups instead of having one list so the President can choose who will be appointed to a particular division," he added.

According to Gadon, each of the clusters had a Sereno favorite who would come off as more prominent, "so the other candidates will lose the chance to be appointed in that particular division."

Sereno is the ex-officio chairperson of the JBC. She is joined by ex-officio members Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre, Senator Richard Gordon, and Representative Reynaldo Umali, and three others from the academe and private sectors.

In August, advocacy groups Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption and Vanguard of the Philippine Constitution also lodged an impeachment complaint against Sereno.