DOJ starts probe vs. Sereno over SALN

MANILA -- The Department of Justice (DOJ) will conduct preliminary investigation on the criminal complaint filed by lawyer Larry Gadon against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno for her alleged failure to file her Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALNs) for a period of 17 years when she was still a law professor at the University of the Philippines (UP).

This was bared by Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre on Sunday.

The DOJ will summon Sereno and will require her to answer the allegations in the complaint for Republic Act 6713 (Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees) and Republic Act 3019 (Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act).

"We will conduct preliminary investigation to determine if there is probable cause to charge her of any offense," Aguirre said in a text message.

Should the investigating prosecutors find probable cause in the complaint, the findings would still have to be submitted to the Office of the Ombudsman for review since the charges fall under the jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan.

The DOJ only has a concurrent jurisdiction with the Ombudsman in investigating graft charges.

Any government official or employee found guilty of non-filing of SALN under Section 8 of RA 6713 shall be penalized with imprisonment not exceeding five years, or a fine not exceeding PHP5,000 or both, and in the discretion of the court, disqualification to hold public office.

We will dismiss it if there is no probable cause, the justice secretary added.

While the DOJ will proceed with the resolution of Gadon's criminal charge against the top magistrate, Aguirre confirmed that any results would have to be shelved at this time when Sereno remains in office.

"Since she is an impeachable official, assuming that there exists probable cause, we could not file it as long as she remains an impeachable official," he stressed.

Gadon, who is also the impeachment complainant against the chief magistrate before the House of Representatives, said he filed a complaint affidavit against Sereno for violation of Republic Act 6713 (Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees) and Republic Act 3019 (Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act).

He said his complaint was based on certifications submitted by the Office of the Ombudsman, UP, and the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC).

Because of the violations, Gadon claimed that Sereno should not have been accepted as a justice of the SC when she applied for the position.

Sereno became a member of the SC in 2010 and became chief justice in 2012.

Gadon said that the filing of the complaint was not a forum shopping considering that Sereno was facing an impeachment complaint before the House of Representatives.

"The impeachment is about determining the fitness of a public official to retain her position or disposition. This complaint, on the other hand, is about criminal violations of the laws," he explained.

In a statement, lawyer Josa Deinla, one of Sereno's spokespersons, said Gadon's filing of a criminal complaint against the chief magistrate in the DOJ only reinforces and further exposes Gadon's ignorance of the law and the processes.

This is yet another desperate and laughable attempt by Gadon to push his sinister plot to remove the Chief Justice from office fully aware that his impeachment complaint has no basis at all, Deinla said.

His latest move is just another publicity stunt to attract the attention of the public whose interest in the ongoing impeachment proceedings is waning, she said.

The public, Deinla added, was already aware that all the allegations against the Chief Justice are mere concoctions to unjustly oust her.

She said that by filing a complaint with the DOJ against a government official immune from suit and filing it with the wrong office only reinforced and further exposed Gadon's ignorance of the law and the processes.

Deinla said that Chief Justice Sereno had been accurately and properly filing her SALNs since she became a member of the Supreme Court in 2010 and as Chief Justice in 2012.

Her earnings from private law practice before she became an Associate Justice are reflected in her ITR filings and only the assets remaining from these earnings are reflected in her current SALNs, she stressed.

Gadon, in his impeachment complaint, alleged that Sereno failed to report or include in her SALN the earnings she made when she represented the Philippine International Airport Terminals Co. in the controversial case over the alleged irregularity in the construction of Terminal 3 of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.

Sereno is also accused of purchasing a brand-new 2017 Toyota Land Cruiser worth PHP5.1 million using public funds.

The impeachment hearing is being conducted by the House Committee on Justice.

Source: Philippine News Agency