WATCH | ‘BASED ON FAKE NEWS’: Sereno calls for dismissal of impeach raps, cautions House vs abuse of power

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File photos of lawyer Lorenzo Gadon (from InterAksyon) and Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno (from Philstar)

(UPDATE 5 – 4:05 p.m.) MANILA, Philippines — Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno called for the “dismissal” of the impeachment complaint filed against her by lawyer Larry Gadon, saying it was “based not on authentic records, much less personal knowledge” but “on conflated hearsay derived from news reports.”

“This is nothing short of an impeachment exercise based on fake news,” Sereno said in a statement, which is part of her 86-page reply the complaint that her lawyers submitted to the House Committee on Justice on Monday, Sept. 25.

“(T)he complaint should be dismissed not only because the charges are totally false but also because they do not constitute the grounds for impeachment under the Constitution,” she said.

Also, Sereno said the House of Representatives would be abusing its power “when impeachment is done without sufficient legal and factual basis.”

“If the grounds for impeachment of the Chief Justice can be trivialized to include any ground which Congress may consider, the fate of the Judiciary would be subjected to the whims of Congress,” Sereno stated in her reply.

She said the abuse of power by the legislative branch “would in effect place a co-equal branch at its mercy and imperil the very existence of our democratic form of government — a government which rests on the principle of independence and equality of the three great branches of Government.”

Lawyers of Chief Justice Lourdes Sereno during a press conference in Quezon City on Monday, Sept. 25, 2017, show the 86-page reply of the magistrate to the impeachment complaint filed against her by lawyer Larry Gadon. Photo by Lira Dalangin-Fernandez/InterAksyon

The chief justice likewise cautioned the House against Gadon’t call for the chamber to investigate a co-equal branch of government “under the guise of substantiating his false claim.”

“The extraordinary power of impeachment is not meant to be an excuse to investigate a co-equal branch for the purpose of substantiating what is in the first place not true,” said Sereno.

CJ won’t step down

Asked if Sereno would resign amid the complaint, Jojo Lacanilao, among the lawyers of the chief justice, said during a press conference on Monday that the “Chief Justice will not resign, she will fight this to the end and more. She is resilient, she will stay on.”

As to the chief magistrate’s current condition, Winnie Salumbides, also a lawyer of Sereno, said, “She is on top of her element…she is unfazed because she knows in her conscience she did not do anything wrong.”

‘Full of general denials, rhetorics’

Asked if Sereno sees the hand of President Rodrigo Duterte in the move to oust her from office, Lacanilao said, “It’s irrelevant kung ano’ng politika ang gumagana rito [The kind of politics that works here is irrelevant] because the Chief Justice is convinced it’s baseless and based on fake news.”

Ito po at talagang hindi mananalo kung ang ating mga representatives ay gagamitin ang kanilang sense of political justice na nirerequire ng Constitution,” he added.

[This (complaint) won’t really succeed if our representatives would use their sense of political justice being required by the Constitution.]

While not discounting politics, Poblador said they would rather handle the matter “based on evidence and applicable law.”

Meanwhile, Gadon on Monday criticized Sereno’s reply to his complaint, saying it was “full of general denials and rhetorics which would crumble if confronted by hard evidence and testimonies of witnesses.”

“How can the judiciary as an institution be destroyed by removing one personality within?…The impeachment case was filed to protect the integrity of the judiciary which has suffered and in continuously suffering from the whimsical ways and attitude of Chief Justice Sereno,” said Gadon.

HIGHLIGHTS OF SERENO REPLY

Here are the salient points of Sereno’s reply to the charges of culpable violation of the Constitution, betrayal of public trust, graft and corruption and other high crimes:

On falsification of several SC Resolutions, TROs and issuances.

The internal rules of the SC provides that resolutions of the SC En Banc be drafted based solely on the notes of the Chief Justice, as there is no secretary inside the room, on what transpired during confidential and executive deliberations. For obvious reasons, the Chief Justice cannot falsify her own notes. And poor note-taking, even assuming that was the case, does not amount to a culpable violation of the Constitution. The remedy of a Justice who feels that the circulated draft does not reflect what was agreed upon during deliberations, is to object within the allotted period, and not to claim that the resolution as finalized, is a falsified one.

On non-disclosure of earnings in her Statement of Assets, Liabilities, Net worth (SALN).

The Chief Justice fully disclosed her SALN. She earned approximately P30.3 million in the PIATCO cases, not P37 million as alleged. She earned the fees from services faithfully rendered to the government, not from corruption. She declared all the fees received in her income tax returns for 2004 to 2009, and paid the corresponding taxes. Like any other income, these fees were gradually spent over time. The fees also went, in part, to family’s tithes, offerings, living, medical and emergency expenses over the course of five years. All assets and investments bought or acquired from the remainder of these fees are truthfully reflected in her SALNs.

On the manipulation of the Judicial and Bar Council.

By Constitutional design, the JBC is composed of high officers of the government and representatives of different sectors who are appointed by the President. Its members are independent, highly educated and accomplished individuals. Upon complainant rests the burden of substantiating his allegations of horse trading within the JBC, and establishing that this horse trading is attributable to the Chief Justice’s willful, deliberate, and perverse intention to violate the Constitution, before these blind item allegations can be dignified as impeachable offenses.

On the extravagant and illegal use of public funds when she acquired a Toyota Land Cruiser.

No less than the SC En banc in a resolution dated March 28, 2017 approved the acquisition of the Land Cruiser amounting to P5.11 million. The Chief Justice need not ask to be exempted from the prohibition against the acquisition and use of luxury (security) vehicles by government officials, as she was already exempted by virtue of her position. Under Section 3.1 of the Department of Budget and Management Administrative Order No. 233, the purchase of a service vehicle “for security reasons and purposes . . . for the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court” is allowed as an exception. The President, Senate President and Speaker of the House are also covered by the exception.

For years, the Chief Justice did not ask for a new “luxury” motor vehicle. Instead, she improvised. She hung a personally-purchased bullet-proof blanket on one side of the interior of the Hyundai Starex van that was handed down to her. She also covers her back seat with a bullet-proof vest which her husband had given to her as a gift. This continues to be her vehicle security upgrade at her personal cost until today. This can be hardly characterized as an extravagant lifestyle.

• On flying full business class.

The SC Rules recognize the necessity of allowing the Chief Justice to travel by business class, in light of her position and the need to provide her with the resources to ensure that she is fully prepared for all international and speaking engagements. …Her seat in business class allows her to rest during long trips, prepare her speeches and accomplish other work on the plane.

On the alleged order not to issue warrants of arrest against Senator Leila de Lima

The Chief Justice has never spoken to any of the three Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court Judges to instruct them not to issue warrants of arrest. Notably, Senator De Lima was arrested and is presently detained.

On her August 8, 2016 letter to President Rodrigo Duterte expressing concern over the drug list.

The letter not only demonstrated the Chief Justice’s genuine concern for the welfare of all members of the judiciary, but also her willingness to cooperate and work with the President in his campaign against illegal drugs.

On allegations that she failed the psychological examination administered by the Judicial and Bar Council.

The Chief Justice has not consented to the release of her evaluation results. The results are also irrelevant to the proceedings as they do not constitute any of the acts alleged in the complaint as grounds for impeachment. She also denied that she fired two psychiatrists who gave her a poor Grade. The psychiatrists were under short-term consultancy contracts, which were no longer renewed by the JBC after their expiration. She also denied that she “flies into a rage every time the issue of psychiatric testing comes up during deliberations in the JBC.” This allegation is not based on personal knowledge of the complainant.

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