Lies, lies, lies
Sinimulan nila, bakit ayaw nilang tapusin?”
This was the pointed question posed by Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno in her statement read at a press conference recently. She was referring to the Solicitor General’s quo warranto submission to the Supreme Court, even before the House of Representatives itself had ruled on whether the charges against her were impeachable offenses.
The answer is simple: The charges are deliberately misleading, and will be shown to be stark lies when publicly brought to the Senate sitting as an impeachment court. This is also the reason Sereno’s defense lawyers were not allowed to answer the charges before the House committee on justice. Even at this level, the flimsy accusations will not stand.
Consider just one or two of the charges leveled at her, which in these days of fake news have been bandied about as if they were true: 1) the alleged nondeclaration in her statement of assets, liabilities and net worth of the “exorbitant fee” of $745,000 or P37 million as legal counsel for the Philippines in the Piatco cases lodged for arbitration in the ICC; and 2) corruption in the form of using public funds for an “extravagant lifestyle” as in the purchase of a Land Cruiser, traveling first class with a “huge entourage of lawyers,” and billeting herself in the presidential villa of Shangri-La in Boracay, “easily at P200,000.00 a night room.”
In truth, we discover that the entire legal fee of $593,807.60 or P30,300,000 (not $745,000.00 or P37 million, as inaccurately charged) was paid to her by the government in installments, from 2004 to 2009, when she was a private practitioner and not yet a sitting justice of the Supreme Court, and hence was not reflected in her SALN of 2010. The total aggregate amount was declared incrementally, however, in her income tax returns; she paid, over those years, about P8.67 million in taxes to the government. The assets and investments acquired out of her fees were duly reported in her subsequent SALNs. She could not possibly hide this income even if she were less transparent, since the source was the Philippine government itself.
The spin doctors of this regime wish to portray this as similar to the deposed Chief Justice Renato Corona’s nondeclaration in his SALN of his hidden wealth. In the first place, this was earned, not from corruption, but from defending the Republic against the combined claims of $1 billion by both Piatco and Fraport AG Frankfurt in the international court. Her engagement and legal fee was duly approved by the Solicitor General then, and post-audited by the Commission on Audit. Far from being “exorbitant,” her hourly rate of $80 was but a fraction of the hourly rate paid by the government to her foreign counterparts who were also hired to represent the country.
It is also worth remembering that it was during this period, in 2007, that Sereno testified, in an affidavit, that the Piatco contracts entered into by Pantaleon Alvarez, then secretary of the Department of Transportation and Communications, were grossly disadvantageous to the government. The Miaa-Naia Association Service even filed a plunder case against Alvarez for anomalies in the construction of Naia 3. Such is the state of justice in this country that he who was found guilty of anomaly has yet to be penalized for the crime, and now is back in power and leads the charge against the woman whose findings, after poring over voluminous documents and records, yielded sufficient evidence that he indeed had put the country in hock.
As to the charge of extravagance, the purchase of a Land Cruiser was approved by the Supreme Court itself, sitting en banc. This was to secure the safety and security of the Chief Justice, whose office is exempted from the prohibition against the acquisition of luxury vehicles under Section 3.1 of the Department of Budget and Management’s Administrative Order No. 233. This exemption was issued in 2008, long before she became chief justice, and also covers the president, Senate president and speaker of the House.
For years, Sereno moved around in a rundown van that then Chief Justice Corona issued to her. For safety, she improvised: She hung a personally purchased bulletproof blanket on one side of the interior of the van, and covered her back seat with a bulletproof vest that her husband had given to her as a gift. It was only when threats to her life were rife that she asked for a vehicle that could be bulletproofed.
As to getting herself billeted in the presidential villa of Shangri-La in Boracay, this was part of a package deal offered by the resort for the third meeting of the Asean Chief Justices and the Asean Law Association, budgeted at P2.6 million and approved by her colleagues at the Supreme Court en banc. Instead of booking additional rooms, the Chief Justice and her staff were allowed to use the villa with no additional charges, saving public funds in the process.
Those of us who travel for international meetings will understand why the Chief Justice has to go business class, which is expressly allowed for her office under the Supreme Court Human Resource Manual. She has never traveled first class. In four of her 16 official foreign trips so far, the Chief Justice traveled without any assisting lawyer. In nine of the trips, she was assisted by only one, and in two trips, by two lawyers. In only one trip was she accompanied by three lawyers, who were the point persons for judicial reforms that were the subject of the trip. The record shows that she does not bring a “huge
entourage,” unlike many who go on foreign junkets disguised as official functions.
These and other facts will all come to light when the Chief Justice gets her day in court in the Senate, in full view of the public. This is why the Solicitor General petitions for a quo warranto, suddenly seized by a perverse form of “kindness,” a way of forcing her to resign without going through a trial where the charges will be shown to be absurdly false and vicious.
The President himself leads this baseless smear campaign under cover of populist rhetoric: “She bled her client—the Filipinos—dry…. Bakit ka bumili ng Land Cruiser? Luxury yan.” While disavowing involvement, he masterfully tars her image of probity by reducing the facts into sweeping half-truths.
Scripture tells us that Satan is the “father of lies.” It is a clear and present danger to this country that a cabal of shameless operatives have been loosed to fictionalize the truth and foist upon us a shadowy regime of lawlessness and lies.
Dr. Melba Padilla Maggay is a social anthropologist and president of the Micah Global, an alliance of 750 faith-based development organizations worldwide.
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