The trial of Saint Sereno
Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno stated last March 19 that Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio failed to submit his SALNs (statements of assets, liabilities and net worth) to the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC).
Carpio never said a word.
By the week’s end, the JBC certified that it had Carpio’s SALNs dating back to 1992. The challenge to Carpio’s integrity vanished instantly.
It was a complete contrast when Sereno was asked by her peer justices last April 10 whether she filed her SALNs as a University of the Philippines professor from 1985 to 2006, in her quo warranto case.
The hearing’s first question exemplified how Sereno’s answers came with multiple legal disclaimers.
Justice Teresita Leonardo de Castro opened: “Did you religiously comply with the submission of the SALN as mandated by law?”
Sereno digressed: “Before I answer, can I have that assurance that should a quo warranto petition be filed against any of you … that you would also, under oath, declare before this court, answer all questions regarding your SALNs.”
De Castro followed up: “Will you please answer the question?”
Carpio soon intervened: “Will Chief Justice just answer the question please?”
Finally, Sereno replied: “Under the Doblada doctrine, I maintain that I consistently filed my SALNs as required by law, OK?”
This was the first of several disclaimers. The 2005 Doblada case, of a court sheriff guilty of corruption, held that one should not conclude an official never filed his SALNs just because they are missing (from UP, in Sereno’s case).
But citing Doblada is a legalistic, technical nonanswer.
Sereno then misrepresented SALN regulations.
When officials assume office, they must file an “entry SALN” within 30 days “reckoned as of [their] first day of service,” per the Ombudsman’s rules under the Code of Conduct for Public Officials.
De Castro quoted this verbatim. She asked why Sereno was appointed a Supreme Court justice in August 2010 but filed a SALN as of December 2009. This violates the Ombudsman’s rules and distorts the base net worth filed.
Sereno reacted violently — “your interpretation is absurd, does not make sense and is unreasonable and oppressive!” — and
accused De Castro of “nitpicking.”
She protested she was busy. She could not compute her net worth, especially her taxes, in a short time. Neither the JBC nor impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona questioned her entry SALN.
De Castro then asked why Sereno’s 1998 SALN was notarized in 2003. Sereno said she could not explain “at this point.”
Justices probed further. When Justice Noel Tijam asked which notary public has a copy of her SALNs, Sereno only generally said it must have been a notary in UP.
Justice Francis Jardeleza asked why she kept reiterating she changed residences seven times when this is irrelevant if her explanation is that it was not her habit to keep copies of her UP records (she would not have them even if she never changed residences).
Jardeleza protested her “layering.” Other justices asked about her SALNs and she would reiterate Doblada or qualify, to the best of her knowledge. She alleged that De Castro and others had missing SALNs. She cited irrelevant SALN exemptions for
laborers and temporary workers.
I previously explained why removing Sereno via quo warranto instead of impeachment is doctrinally difficult.
But whether or not the SC dismisses the case, the hearing Sereno demanded backfired.
The hearing at least established that, even after Calida retrieved additional SALNs from UP, Sereno could not produce at least her SALNs from 2003 to 2005. UP professors are required to file SALNs when on leave (as Sereno was), such as when they study or teach abroad.
And Calida even claimed her final UP SALN is a fabrication as it was as of 2006 but signed in 2010.
SALNs are a constitutional requirement. The questions on her SALNs’ absence and her manner of answering are now on record and could be raised in the future.
One hopes the Supreme Court posts the complete transcript, as social media memes do not match the actual hearing.
React: firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter @oscarfbtan, facebook.com/OscarFranklinTan.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.