Sparks fly as SC hears arguments on quo warranto plea vs Sereno

FOR about six hours on Tuesday, April 10, Supreme Court (SC) justices engaged in a lively, at times heated, discussion on the quo warranto petition filed by the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.

At the end of the hearing held in Baguio City, Acting Justice Antonio Carpio ordered both parties to submit their respective memorandum within 10 days, or on or before April 20, 2018.

During the hearing, Sereno maintained that she has consistently filed her Statement of Assets Liabilities and Networth (SALN).

The Solicitor General wants the SC to nullify Sereno's appointment as Chief Justice over her alleged failure to file her SALN in compliance with requirements of the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) when she applied for the post.

Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo-De Castro, one of the magistrates who testified against Sereno at the House of Representatives' hearing on the impeachment complaint against the chief magistrate, questioned Sereno during the interpellation on whether she religiously complied with the submission of her SALN as mandated by the law.

Sereno answered in the affirmative. She, however ,admitted that she had failed to file some of her SALNs with the JBC.

She insited that she has a copy of all her SALNs but said that she was unwilling to show these to the Court.

Sereno only filed her SALNs for the years 2009, 2010 and 2011. She is accused of failing to file her SALN 11 times.

Prior to answering De Castro's first question, Sereno posed a challenge to all the Associate Justices who have also failed to comply with the SALN requirement to also allow themselves to be subjected to a quo warranto proceeding over their supposed failure to file their complete SALNs.

She claimed that De Castro has only filed 15 SALNs with the JBC when she should have filed 39.

The challenge posed by Sereno was, however, dismissed quickly by Justice De Castro.

Aside from De Castro, Sereno's chief counsel Alex Poblador, said in his opening statement that Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio has also filed a letter explaining why he could not submit his SALN for the year 1995 when he applied for the Chief Justice post in 2012.

Former Justice Roberto Abad has failed to submit to the JBC at least 14 SALNs while Associate Justice Arturo Brion, at least 10 SALNs, Poblador bared.

De Castro, during the interpellation, manifested that she vehemently denied the allegations in Sereno's motion for inhibition. She said the conversation mentioned by Sereno did not happen and she will prove it.

The said motion was not made public.

Sereno was asked why she filed a letter before the JBC, stating that she cannot file her SALNs when she was still in University of the Philippines considering that the documents then were 15 years old and could no longer be retrieved.

Sereno explained that she was only asked to submit at least two SALNs filed while she was still in UP and that she was not able to comply as she was told by the UP Human Resource Department that the records were not found.

She said this has prompted her to write a letter telling the JBC that it was not feasible for her to file the required SALNs.

Sereno denied the claim of Solicitor General Jose Calida that she had fabricated the SALN she had filed in 2010.

The Solicitor General said the printed date in the SALN is 2006 but it was signed on July 27, 2010.

Sereno said that she was not the one who placed the 2006 date. She explained that the form which is dated 2006 is the only available downloadable form and because of the time constraint she had no choice but to fill up and submit it to the JBC.

Sereno said that had she committed any violation during her stint as Associate Justice, then Chief Justice Renato Corona should have reprimanded her.

The JBC should have also reprimanded her or rejected her application had she failed to qualify, she said.

"There are 11 instances they could have objected," she said, referring to the JBC.

Sereno further argued: "I never knew what was happening inside the JBC. If they consider that sufficient, then that is sufficient."

She added that "everything was done in good faith."

During the interpellation, De Castro reminded Sereno that she wrote a dissenting opinion in a prior SC ruling that "failure to comply is a prima facie evidence of unexplained wealth."

Sereno said De Castro's interpretation was out of context. She explained that the opinion was about disproportionate wealth.

"There is no issue of ill-gotten wealth here at all!" Sereno said, adding that even during the House hearing against her, the issue of ill-gotten wealth was not brought up.

During the hearing, Justice Noel Tijam called out the Chief Justice for publicly proclaiming that she wants her day in Court.

To this, Sereno answered: "This is not my day in Court. You compelled me."

Her answer did not sit well with Tijam.

Tijam said she was not compelled and that the en banc had denied the Solicitor General's request for oral arguments but Sereno filed for an Ad Cautelam Motion, prompting the en banc to order the conduct of an oral argument.

The supposed denial of Sereno has prompted Martires to order the Clerk of Court to reproduce 20 copies of the Ad Cautelam Motion in order to prove to the Filipino people that she was not forced to appear before the SC.

The Solicitor General, for his part, reiterated that the Chief Justice can be ousted through a quo warranto.

He mentioned that the impeachment presupposes a valid appointment and since the Chief Justice's appointment is invalid, she should not be ousted by the Congress.

Calida, when interpellated by Justice Marvic Leonen, maintained that he was not instructed by President Rodrigo Duterte to file a case against the Chief Justice.

He said he did not consult the President nor the House or the Senate before filing the petition.

Calida said he is doing it for the republic, he said.

The President on Tuesday declared Sereno an enemy who has to be removed from office, after the latter insinuated that the former had a hand in moves to oust her. (SunStar Philippines)
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