MANILA, Philippines – Without copies of her State of Assets Liabilities and Net worth (SALN), then Associate Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno should not have been included in the short list of applicants for Chief Justice in 2012, two of her colleagues in the high court said.
“But this one, I think napalusutan ako rito [this might have gotten past me],” Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta told the House committee on justice on Monday at the resumption of the impeachment hearing against Sereno.
“From that moment, her application should have been rejected because there was no SALN,” Peralta added.
To Peralta, Sereno’s appointment “may be considered void” because she did not comply with the requirements when she applied.
Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo De Castro said there was “great injustice done to all applicants” for chief justice at that time when Sereno was included in the selection despite lacking requirements.
“This is great injustice done to all applicants because of what they did to Sereno at that time, and they are also doing injustice to all applicants today because they always exclude anyone, if the applicant has no police clearance, for example, they exclude. Here, there was not even substantial compliance, there is non-compliance absolutely,” De Castro said.
Peralta was head of the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) in 2012, which screened the candidates for positions in the judiciary, including the chief justice. The position of top magistrate was vacated when Chief Justice Renato Corona was impeached and then convicted in the trial.
He said he was not fully aware about the issue of the non-submission of Sereno’s SALN when they deliberated the application.
“Likewise, the psychiatric examination, had I known there is an issue, I would have summoned the two psychiatrists,” Peralta said.
Peralta said the stringent screening should have been done by the JBC executive committee, which accepted the applications.
Lawyer Annaliza Ty-Capacite, JBC executive officer, said that from 40 applications, the number was reduced to 22, which included Sereno.
Capacite said Sereno submitted only three SALNs, but the committee decided that “substantial compliance” to the documentary requirements, including the SALN, would suffice.
“As to the parameters of substantial compliance, even when one lacks SALN, as long as he or she submitted some, that’s already substantial compliance,” Capacite said.
She said that Senator Francis Escudero, who then represented Congress in the JBC, explained that there should be at least an attempt to comply with a particular requirement for it to be called substantial compliance.
De Castro, however, said that the JBC decided that substantial compliance as to the SALN, required the submission of 10 years SALN immediately proceeding December 31, 2011.
Capacite said the applicants who lacked requirements were given time, until July 2012, to submit, but Sereno instead wrote the JBC a letter saying she failed to submit her SALN because she could no longer locate them at her office at the University of the Philippines where she was previously employed.
The House panel is on its 15th hearing on the impeachment case, this time, to determine if there is probable cause to impeach her.
Among the allegations in the impeachment complaint against Sereno was her failure to declare in her SALN from 2010 to 2016 the P30 million she earned as a private counselsof government in the arbitration case involving the expropriation of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3.
Lawyer Lorenzo Gadon, the complainant in the impeachment case, said Sereno, who was with the UP College of Law from 1986 to 2006, only filed SALN in 1998, 2002 and 2006.
PERALTA LIKE ‘PONTIUS PILATE’ – CJ’s SPOKESPERSON
The camp of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno maintained that she had complied with all the JBC requirements, including the submission of Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALNs), when she was being considered for the top judicial post in 2012.
“The fact that the JBC shortlisted the Chief Justice means its members, including Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta who was then the acting chair, found her documentary submissions complete and compliant with the rules,” lawyer Jojo Lacanilao, one of Sereno’s spokespersons, said.
At the time the JBC was screening the candidates for Chief Justice in 2012, Lacanilao noted that Sereno submitted three SALNs which she filed since she was appointed Associate Justice of the Supreme Court in 2010.
The SALNs covered the years 2009, 2010 and 2011. Sereno was in private practice prior to her appointment to the high court.
Testifying before the House Committee on Justice on Monday, JBC executive officer Ty-Capacite said
it was Senator Escudero, then a JBC member representing Congress, who raised the issue of “substantial compliance” in one of the deliberations of the council.
She said Escudero had pointed out that a candidate may be considered for as long as there was “substantial compliance or an attempt to comply with the requirement” on the submission of SALNs.
Meanwhile, Lacanilao criticized Justice Peralta for pulling a “Pontius Pilate” move when he said he was not fully aware of the issue on SALN submission.
Peralta told the House justice panel said that had he known the issue surrounding Sereno’s SALNs, he would have objected to her inclusion in the shortlist of nominees submitted to then President Benigno Aquino III for his appointment.
“It is clear to us that Justice Peralta wants to wash his hands clean of how Chief Justice Sereno was included in the JBC shortlist and he knows it,” Lacanilao said.
He said that as acting chair of the JBC, Peralta signed the endorsement letter to Malacañang containing the list of nominees for the Chief Justice post, which included the names of Sereno and seven other candidates.
According to Lacanilao, Peralta has an axe to grind against Sereno because his wife, Court of Appeals Associate Justice Audrey Peralta, was excluded from the shortlist of nominees for CA Presiding Justice that the JBC submitted to President Duterte last year after she filed her requirements out of time. Sereno is currently the ex-officio chair of the JBC.
He noted that Peralta has repeatedly complained about his wife’s exclusion from the said JCB shortlist in all the impeachment hearings he was present.