De Castro chides Sereno for discussing quo warranto petition

MANILA Supreme Court (SC) Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo-De Castro on Thursday expressed dismay over Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno's speech on the Office of the Solicitor General's (OSG) quo warranto petition against the latter, during the annual national convention of the Philippine Women Judges Association (PWJA) held at the Manila Hotel.

De Castro, who is also PWJA president, said Sereno should not have used the event to discuss her case which is subjudice.

I am very sorry that the Chief Justice has taken this opportunity to discuss a matter which is subjudice. We have given her all the courtesy and I sincerely hope that she should have not dealt with the matter that is pending in the Court, De Castro said.

The OSG's quo warranto petition, which seeks to nullify Sereno's appointment to the judiciary's top post, is currently pending in the SC.

The High Court has earlier ordered Sereno to respond to the petition within 10 days.

Sereno is currently on an indefinite leave of absence from the high court to prepare for her looming trial at the Senate.

In her speech at the event, which coincided with the celebration of the International Women's Day, Sereno slammed her detractors for resorting to a different forum other than the process of impeachment, which under the Constitution, is the only legal method to remove a sitting Chief Justice from office.

Indeed, I look at any forum to try me other than the constitutionally exclusive forum of impeachment as an admission by the complainant and my other detractors that after 15 hearings, they have failed to come up with any evidence with which I can be convicted in the Senate, Sereno emphasized.

"Sila ang nagsimula bakit ayaw nilang tapusin? Napakaaga naman yata para umamin sila na wala silang napala kundi matinding kabiguan kaya't kung anu-ano na lamang ang gimik ang ginagawa nila masunod lamang ang kanilang nais.[They started it, how come they do not want to finish it? Isn't it too early to admit that they got nothing except utter failure thus they resort to all sorts of gimmick to get what they wanted.], Sereno added.

Sereno maintained she will not bow down to pressure and step down as demanded by her accusers and critics.

The oath I have taken is to protect the Constitution, the independence of the judiciary and to take a stand for every judge whose freedom of conscience I have consistently done my best to defend, Sereno stressed. All kinds of lies, threats, harassment and bullying have been thrown my way. But I will not yield.

Pending the impeachment trial in the Senate, the Chief Justice urged her colleagues to dispel all thoughts and impulses of malice and ill will for they serve no good purpose and bring nothing but shame.

We must denounce gossiping and unfounded innuendos and try our best to preserve our dignity as members of the judiciary. And, true to our oath as judges, we do not judge anyone until all the evidence is in.

Sereno was applauded by the women judges but not by her peers at the Supreme Court.

Aside from De Castro, present during the event are Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and Associate Justices Presbitero Velasco Jr., Mariano Del Castillo, Samuel Martires, Noel Tijam, Diosdado Peralta and Estela Perlas Bernabe.

In a 38-2 vote, the House of Representatives' Justice Committee on Thursday found probable cause to impeach Sereno.

The impeachment complaint contains four grounds, including corruption, culpable violation of the Constitution, betrayal of public trust and other high crimes. The complaint also alleged 27 acts constituting the offenses charged against the Chief Justice.

Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali, committee chairman, said his panel marked "another milestone" for the first conduct of a full cycle in the initiation of impeachment proceedings from filing and referral, to determination of form, substance, and grounds, and eventually the determination of probable cause.

Umali said the impeachment complaint puts into question Sereno's fitness to continue serving as head of the judiciary, stressing that all its members must be "a person of proven competence, integrity, probity, and independence."

"Failure to live up to the foregoing standard impairs the ability of the Chief Justice to dispense justice. In fact, as the highest magistrate of the land, she must be held to a much higher, if not highest standard," Umali said.

The committee conducted 18 hearings on the determination of probable cause spanning for five months.

"Throughout the probable cause hearings, this committee has gathered sufficient evidence to provide us with the ammunition to prosecute this case towards victory," Umali said.

Source: Philippine News Agency