MANILA, Philippines — Supreme Court Associate Justice Teresita de Castro on Wednesday downplayed reports that Maria Lourdes Sereno received a tongue-lashing from her after the chief justice supposedly altered the ruling in a temporary restraining order (TRO) that De Castro drafted.
During the House Committee on Justice’s hearing on the impeachment complaint filed against Sereno, De Castro said the reports were “exaggerated,” explaining that she might have said what was on her mind in an “emphatic” manner during deliberations of the Supreme Court en banc, “but after the en banc, we eat together. Hindi po kami nag-aaway [We are not fighting].”
Complainant Lorenzo Gadon alleged that Sereno had committed culpable violation of the Constitution by tampering with a TRO of the SC in G.R. No. 206844-45 (Coalition of Associations of Senior Citizens in the Philippines v. COMELEC).
Asked about the matter by lawmakers, De Castro said that the consolidated two cases involving the Coalition of Associations of Senior Citizens in the Philippines – also known as the Senior Citizens’ Partylist – were raffled to her in May 2013, after the elections.
The Commission on Elections earlier issued a resolution disqualifying the Senior Citizens’ Partylist from running in the elections. But it nevertheless garnered enough votes to earn it a seat in the House of Representatives. De Castro said she thought it would be unfair to the party-list to be disqualified given the votes it received.
At the time, the high court was in recess. De Castro said she had prepared a synopsis explaining the case to Sereno, as well as a draft TRO where she “explicitly” recommended the issuance of a TRO to the Comelec to prevent it from implementing its resolution.
De Castro also mentioned the Senior Citizens’ Partylist in particular, because it was the only party-list involved in the case.
Given the urgency of the matter, she submitted her recommendation to Sereno’s office, which received it at the “first hour” in the morning of May 29, 2013. At the time, only 14 party-lists were proclaimed winners by the Comelec.
Come afternoon, 53 party-lists were already proclaimed, prompting De Castro to worry that the Senior Citizens’ Partylist might lose its seat.
De Castro said that by the time Sereno arrived at the office, it was already in the afternoon — a “very late” hour. She said she had followed up the matter with the Chief Justice’s office throughout the day, but Sereno allegedly did not even call her up to discuss it with her.
When the TRO was released by Sereno, De Castro said she was “taken aback” because it attributed to De Castro the recommendation that the Comelec stop from proclaiming all remaining party-lists.
De Castro added that the Comelec resolution in question was not even referred to in the TRO.
She then wrote Sereno a letter to say that the TRO should only involve the Senior Citizens’ Partylist, as it was “very basic” that anyone who was not involved in a case should not be included in it.
De Castro said she also mentioned that the TRO from Sereno would violate the right of the party-lists to due process of law, and asked Sereno why she stopped the proclamation of the other groups.
De Castro added that she said the Comelec could not be deprived of its constitutional duty to enforce election laws and to proclaim winning candidates or party-list groups.
The high court en banc took up the matter last June 5, and decided to issue a status quo ante order. De Castro explained that the TRO was rescinded in the sense that it no longer covered all party-list groups, and that it now specifically referred only to the Senior Citizens’ Partylist.
‘De Castro only has recommendatory power’
Meanwhile, Sereno’s spokespersons, in a press release, noted De Castro’s “mere recommendatory power”.
“The Chief Justice, during recess, is expressly empowered to ‘act’ on urgent cases requiring immediate action, even without the recommendation of the Member-in-Charge,” they said.
The continued, “The Chief Justice could not be accused of falsifying anything. In the exercise of her own discretion and authority to issue TROs when the Court is in recess, the Chief Justice elected to issue a temporary restraining order under terms she considered just and proper.”
Gadon had accused Sereno of “falsifying” the TRO.
“Justice De Castro had recommended the issuance of a TRO against a COMELEC Resolution, albeit limited to the petitioners in G.R. Nos. 206844 to 45. However, the assailed COMELEC Resolution actually affected partylist candidates other than those in G.R. Nos. 206844-45,” the spokespersons explained.
They continued, “It also happened that a petition filed by another party-list candidate and docketed as G.R. No. 206952, had questioned the same COMELEC Resolution. G.R. No. 206952 was raffled to then Associate Justice Bienvenido L. Reyes. Justice Reyes had also recommended the issuance of a TRO against the COMELEC Resolution.”
“Upon the Chief Justice’s evaluation, the COMELEC Resolution could not be restrained in favor of one group but allowed to continue against others. For this reason, the TRO she issued was not limited to the petitioners in G.R. Nos. 206844-45.”
As for the part of Gadon’s complaint which states, “It was only after Sereno endured a harsh tongue-lashing from Justice Teresita Leonardo-De Castro, the original ponente of the tampered TRO, was the TRO rectified and re-released,” De Castro said, “Exaggerated naman po [It’s exaggerated].”
When she deals with the Chief Justice during deliberations, said De Castro, “I give whatever is on my mind.”
Of course there are times, she said, when “emphatic tayo (we are emphatic).”
“But after the en banc, we eat together. Hindi po kami nag-aaway (We are not fighting),” she added.
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