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Sereno violated SC procedures, De Castro tells impeachment probe

Hon. Teresita J. Leonardo-De Castro, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines, testifies during the impeachment hearing against Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno in the House of Representatives, November 29. (Kevin Tristan Espiritu / MANILA BULLETIN)


 November 30th, 2017  |  09:38 AM  |   463 views



Supreme Court Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo de Castro on Wednesday confirmed allegations that impeachment respondent Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno violated procedures by revising a recommendation for a temporary restraining order (TRO) of a petition assigned to De Castro.


At the resumption of the impeachment hearing Wednesday, De Castro and Court Administrator Midas Marquez appeared before the House Committee on Justice after having been allowed by the High Court to shed light on administrative matters as contained in the impeachment complaint of lawyer Lorenzo Gadon.


Gadon raised the TRO issue among the 27 impeachable acts that Sereno allegedly committed.  He said the Chief Justice “falsified” the TRO on the Senior Citizens Partylist petition when she changed De Castro’s recommendation for the issuance of the temporary injunction that prevented the Commission on Elections (Comelec) from proclaiming partylist winners in the 2013 elections.


Under SC rules, De Castro, having been assigned the SCP petition, was supposed to make the recommendation for TRO which she did.


But since the SC was then in recess, De Castro said she sent her recommendation for TRO on the SCP case to Sereno in order that she can issue the court order as provided by the rules.


However, instead of limiting the TRO to the SCP case raffled to De Castro, Sereno allegedly issued a court directive that stopped the Comelec from proclaiming as winners all other partylist groups not involved in the SCP issue.


Responding to the Gadon complaint, Sereno explained that De Castro’s recommendation was a mere draft and that as chief justice, she can “wholly accept, modify and even reject” it.


“I disagree because I was the member-in-charge and assigned to oversee the progress and disposition of the case.  The chief justice only issues the TRO but she has no authority to act on the case on her own,” stressed De Castro.


By changing her recommendation by issuing a “blanket TRO”, the court order effectively covered parties not even involved in the pending case, De Castro pointed out.


“To whom it may concern ang kanyang TRO.  I was taken aback because I was being attributed as having recommended it,” the lady magistrate lamented.


Exercise of discretion


The Sereno camp, however maintained the Chief Justice has the authority to issue the TRO even without the recommendation of the member-in-charge.


“In G.R. Nos. 206844-45, the Chief Justice gave due consideration to Justice De Castro’s “Recommendatory Action.”  However, since Justice De Castro was merely “recommending” a course of action to the Chief Justice, and further considering that the proposed “temporary restraining order” was merely a “draft”, the Chief Justice can wholly accept, modify or even reject Justice De Castro’s recommendation” Sereno’sdefense team said in a press statement.


“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,” Sereno’s counsels added


Ethics committee deactivated


De Castro revealed that an ethics body created by the late Chief Justice Renato Corona to receive complaint against SC members was deactivated by Sereno.


The filing  a complaint before the ethics body would have been the proper venue to pursue a complaint against Sereno or any other member of the High Court for questionable actions.


De Castro, however made it clear that she had no intention to “put down the Chief” only to correct what she had done wrong.


“If I wanted to put down the Chief, I would have filed a case against her or asked the other justices to amend the AO (adminsitrative order) and stop the JDO from being implemented,” explained De Castro.


“In the SC we have ethics committee, I used to be the vice chair of the ethics committee during the time of Justice Corona.  After the term of Justice Corona, CJ Sereno never organized the ethics committee,” De Castro explained.


De Castro,a former Presiding Justice of the Sandiganbayan also described as “exaggerated” newspaper reports claiming that she gave Sereno a “tongue lashing” although she spoke her mind when she confronted the chief justice for attributing to her the controversial TRO decision whichSereno issued.


Only one vote


De Castro, who patiently answered queries from members of the Justice Committee for eight hours Wednesday said: “I cannot stand idly by when the power of the Supreme Court is being undermined and when the decision we reached collectively are being set aside or changed? I should speak up. What kind of SC justice am I if I don’t?,” De Castro added.


De Castro told the panel she questioned Sereno’s supposed unilateral issuance of Administrative Order (AO) No. 175-2012, which revived the Regional Court Administration Office-7 (RCAO-7) in Cebu City.


“The Chief Justice cannot create an office. It is a legislative power. What she did, it appears she created a permanent office. Even it was created by the court, it was a pilot project, it is an ad-hoc body. It has no permanency,” she said.


She recalled that she was “taken aback” when they were invited by Sereno’s office to a reopening of the RCAO in Region 7 in 2012.


”We were not consulted and made to participate in that decision. This prompted me to look deeply into the matter and found out that the Chief Justice issued AO 175-2012 designating the head for Judiciary Decentralization Office (JDO) in the Seventh Judicial Region. This is not meant to implement the RCAO as approved by the court en banc unanimously,” De Castro stressed.


She said Sereno’s AO was implemented without the required approval of the en banc.


De Castro also pointed out that Sereno’s creation of the Judiciary Decentralized Office and the appointment of Judge Geraldine Econg as head of the office is contrary and inconsistent with the 2006 en banc decisions designating the Court Administrator as implementer of the RCAO pilot project.


“When I compared the AO issued by the Chief Justice, it did not conform with the provisions of these administrative matters approved by the court en banc,” De Castro said.


“She cannot do it by herself because she has only one vote. And unless there is a delegation of authority by the court en banc, the Chief Justice cannot exercise the administrative supervision of all courts which is vested in the Supreme Court as a collegial body,” she added.


Correct the wrong


When asked by Majority Leader and Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas if Sereno’s issuance of the  AO-175 violates the Constitution and the law, De Castro declined to answer.


This prompted Fariñas to read De Castro’s letter, saying that Sereno’s AO “has transgressed the said constitutional authority of the court en banc and the statutory authority of the Office of the Court Administrator.”


Citing Presidential Decree 828, which creates the Office of the Court Administrator in the Supreme Court, the majority leader noted that the Chief Justice can only appoint staff with the approval of the court en banc.


In their en banc deliberations after Sereno’s AO was opposed, De Castro said Sereno committed to amend her administrative order. However, Sereno issued aresolution indicating that the court en banc’s “ratification” of the revival of the RCAO 7 as relayed by former Supreme Court Clerk of Court Enriqueta Vidal, prompting De Castro to write another letter to the chief magistrate on Dec. 3, 2012.


“With due respect to the Chief Justice, to my recollection the resolution does not reflect the deliberation and consensus of the justices,” De Castro said in the letter.


De Castro claimed that Sereno “did not reply at all” and the matter was discussed again on Dec. 7, 2012 wherein the court reiterated the need to create a study group and designated Associate Justice Jose Perez to head the study group. Even during the deliberation, Sereno did not explain why she issued AO 175, she noted.


On January 22, 2013, the Supreme Court issued a corrective resolution creating a “Decentralization Needs Assessment Committee to study and determine the necessity of decentralizing administrative functions appurtenant to the exercise of the Supreme Court’s power of supervision over lower courts.”


“The court did not want to embarrass her. I’m not after putting Sereno down. On my part, I just want to correct what has been done to put things in order as decided by the court in previous resolutions,” she said.


During the hearing, Deputy Speaker and Cebu Rep. Gwendolyn Garcia and Leyte Rep. Vicente Veloso surmised that indeed, Sereno committed culpable violation of the Constitution when she purportedly falsified a resolution in 2012 reviving the RCAO 7 as stated in the verified impeachment complaint filed by lawyer Larry Gadon.



courtesy of BANGKOK POST

by Ben Rosario and Charissa Luci-Atienza


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