Two Supreme Court Associate Justices have expressed their willingness to appear and testify before the impeachment proceeding against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno at the House of Representatives.
Associate Justices Teresita de Castro and Noel Tijam, in their letter of reply to the House justice committee last November 24, said they are willing to attend the hearings once they get clearance from the SC’s en banc, which is set to convene on Tuesday.
“May I request that I be given time to seek clearance from the Court, during the en banc session on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017, to produce at the hearing all internal communications, memoranda and other documents relevant to the allegations in the verified in the impeachment complaint. As soon as the said clearance is granted, I shall honor your invitation to attend the aforementioned hearing,” De Castro wrote in a letter to Committee chairman Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali.
Meanwhile, Tijam, in his reply letter to Umali, wrote: “Rest assured that as soon as approval of of the Court en banc is secured and the pertinent documents are collated, the undersigned is willing to appear before the honorable committee.”
Umali, during the hearing, said the committee respects the internal processes of the judicial branch.
De Castro and Tijam were summoned to shed light on allegations that Sereno tampered with court documents and deliberately delayed the transfer of Maute cases to Taguig court.
Aside from the justices, former Associate Justice Arturo Brion asked the committee to give him time to wait for the high court’s word on the use of internal documents in proceedings outside the court.
Court Administrator Jose Midas Marquez, SC’s public information office chief Theodore Te, and SC Chief Judicial Staff Officer Charlotte Labayani also responded to the invitation but said that they have to wait for the en banc’s decision.
Judicial and Bar Council Executive Officer Annaliza Capacite, meanwhile, asked to be excused from attending the hearings after the committee summoned her to substantiate allegations that Sereno manipulated the JBC short list to exclude former Solicitor General and now Associate Justice Francis Jardeleza for personal and political reasons.
“The undersigned would like to respectfully inform your honor that she is not in a position to answer the questions relating to the aforementioned allegation in the impeachment complaint for the reason that she was not present in any of the meetings wherein the JBC discussed the candidacy of then SolGen now SC Associate Justice Francis Jardeleza,” Capacite said. /kga, je
By: Jullianne Love de Jesus INQUIRER.net November 27, 2017
Sereno impeachment case: Justices need SC approval to testify in House
Supreme Court Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo-De Castro may be cited for violating the high court’s internal rules if she testifies against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno in the impeachment hearing at the House of Representatives without full-court approval, according to a spokesperson for the country’s top magistrate.
The same goes for other Supreme Court justices and officials who have been invited by the committee to testify at the impeachment hearings, although they are unlikely to appear before the panel on Monday as they first have to get clearance from the full court, said Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali, the committee chair.
“The [Supreme Court] sessions are executive in character, with only its members present. The deliberations are confidential and should not be disclosed to outside parties, except if authorized by the court,” the spokesperson for Sereno, Aldwin Salumbides, said in a statement on Sunday.
The policies spelled out in the internal rules of the Supreme Court “safeguard the confidentiality of sessions and internal documents” of the country’s highest judicial body, Salumbides said.
The rollos, or court documents, may be released “only upon an official written request from the judicial staff head or the chief of office of the requesting office,” he said.
“All [people] handling the rollos are bound by the same strict confidentiality rules,” he added.
Salumbides’ remarks came on the heels of an invitation from the House justice committee to De Castro to attend its hearing on Monday on the impeachment complaint filed by lawyer Lorenzo Gadon against Sereno.
At the hearing on Wednesday, Gadon identified De Castro as the source of confidential information that he claimed was given to him by Manila Times reporter Jomar Canlas involving a temporary restraining order that was allegedly tampered with by Sereno.
But De Castro issued a statement as the hearing was going on, denying she released to Canlas “any information, report or document regarding the work of the court.”
Gadon may be liable for perjury if the information is proved to be false.
“This is under oath and so he will have to answer for his actions,” Umali told reporters after the hearing on Wednesday.
Lawmakers on the justice committee agreed to invite De Castro to testify at the hearing on Monday, but Salumbides said he did not believe she would appear before the panel.
“As a lawyer, I find it highly irregular for a magistrate, for a Supreme Court justice, to go down and take the witness stand. It gives me goose bumps. It seems inappropriate for a justice to suddenly turn witness,” he said.
If she does without full-court approval, she may be cited for violating the high court’s internal rules, he said.
Besides De Castro, Supreme Court Associate Justice Noel Tijam, Court Administrator Midas Marquez, Public Information Office chief Theodore Te and full-court clerk Felipa Anama have also been invited to testify at the hearings.
But Umali, speaking in a radio interview on Sunday, said the justices and other Supreme Court officials would “most likely not” appear in Monday’s hearing because they needed to secure full-court approval first.
The full court meets on Tuesdays.
‘They are willing’
“They are willing, except that they need the approval of [the full court],” Umali said.
Gadon has accused Sereno of failing to declare her real wealth, buying a luxury car using government funds and making questionable decisions without consulting the rest of the court, among other charges.
Earlier, Umali’s panel had determined that Gadon’s complaint was sufficient in form and substance.
The panel is now trying to determine whether there is probable cause to impeach Sereno.
Gadon claimed Sereno called Tijam to manipulate the transfer of the cases involving members of the Maute terror group.
Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II may also not attend Monday’s hearing to testify on this issue.
Umali said “they [could be] accommodated on Tuesday” instead.
The justice committee would tackle another seven allegations against Sereneo after deliberating on seven accusations on Wednesday, he said.
Subpoena for Sereno
Umali said the committee was still “studying” if Sereno could be subpoenaed to answer the allegations, as she had repeatedly declined to face her accuser and pressed for her lawyers to represent her instead.
He said the committee had power to issue an arrest warrant for Sereno, if she would not heed the subpoena.
“If there are things that she should testify on, the committee might probably issue a subpoena. And a subpoena has coercive powers; if it is not followed, we would be obliged to issue a warrant,” Umali said.
“This is a constitutional power to pursue a constitutional mandate in which … the separation of powers [as a] coequal branch may not … be invoked in this particular instance,” he said. /atm /pdi