SINGAPORE — The impeachment charges against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno are mostly trivial, and supported by nothing more than news clippings or no evidence whatsoever. “Mostly” is the key word. Sereno admits the truth of the most reprehensible charge in her “Answer to the House Committee on Justice” last Sept. 24.
She admits the shocking events in the 2014 Supreme Court decision Jardeleza v. Sereno. Page 44 stunningly dismisses: “Complainant is relying on opinion, instead of facts, the law and doctrine.”
But it is no mere opinion — it is a formal Supreme Court decision, part of the law of the land and taught in freshman classes, ruling that now Justice Francis Jardeleza was deprived of due process when he was blocked as a Supreme Court candidate by the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) Sereno chairs. The unprecedented lawsuit against a sitting chief justice allowed Jardeleza’s appointment to the Supreme Court.
Sereno’s version is that she questioned Jardeleza’s integrity before the JBC, as was her right. She then invoked a JBC rule that questions of integrity may only be dismissed by unanimous JBC vote. Instead of inhibiting, she voted against Jardeleza to prevent unanimity.
Thus, Sereno claims that Jardeleza was blocked not by her, but by the JBC’s rules. Like impeached chief justice Renato Corona, she argues this was not her act, but a collegial body’s.
But by Sereno’s own admission, and as documented in the Jardeleza decision, she was the accuser. She then ruled on her own accusations, singlehandedly deciding the case because of the unanimity rule. She was prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner, all in one.
This is textbook violation of due process. It is also plausibly culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust, grounds for impeachment, because it is impossible not to question how a chief justice both prosecuted then judged the same case.
Further, page 46 of Sereno’s Answer implies Jardeleza waived his right to due process because he refused to answer Sereno’s accusations until they were presented in writing.
This blatantly contradicts the Jardeleza decision. Page 28 ruled that the JBC’s own rules gave Jardeleza the right to receive the charges in writing. Page 30 ruled there was lack of due process when Jardeleza was asked to respond to accusations on the spot, with no opportunity to prepare. Page 29 even documents Sereno as refusing to postpone the JBC voting on Jardeleza.
Finally, Sereno’s Answer claims the Jardeleza decision “did not condemn the Chief Justice’s actions, but even noted her ‘zeal’ with regard to international cases.”
This is flagrant misrepresentation. The “zeal” paragraph in Page 20 of the decision ruled that it was improper for Sereno to invoke the unanimity rule that let her be the sole judge, because her accusation questioned Jardeleza’s professional judgment in a case, not his morality. And Justice Arturo Brion’s concurring opinion decried how “Sereno manipulated the JBC processes” and “level of malice.”
Incidentally, the Answer also defends that Sereno disclosed P30.3 million earned in 2004-2009 from the Piatco arbitration. She paid P8.67 million in taxes, P8.76 million for a house, car and investments, P2.30 million for parents’ medical expenses, and P3.64 million for “tithes.” The remaining P6.93 million (P115,500/month over 5 years) was spent as living expenses.
But Sereno spokesperson Josa Deinla stated she also earned P3 million/year from other sources, or an additional post-tax P172,900/month. Sereno would need to explain if this was spent for living expenses and if her lifestyle is now spartan after her income halved from P9 million to P4.6 million as chief justice.
And note P30.3 million divided by P3,600 (Sereno’s stated US$80/hour rate) and 5 years is 35 billable hours/week—of part time work.
Although the impeachment charges are mostly impossible to take seriously, it is time to question why we focus on a Sereno personality cult and willfully overlook the Jardeleza decision, one of our Supreme Court’s most abominable post-Edsa episodes. Why have we not questioned a judge who is her own prosecutor?
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