Sereno belies De Castro testimony in impeach hearing

MANILA -- The camp of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno on Wednesday denied Supreme Court (SC) Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo-De Castro's claim that the Chief Justice issued Administrative Order No. ?175-2012 without the approval of the SC en banc as required in their internal rules.

De Castro made the statement during the continuation of the hearing of the House justice committee on the impeachment proceedings against Sereno.

It is false to say that the Chief Justice acted unilaterally and without the knowledge of the Court En Banc when she issued A.O. No. ?175-2012. Precisely, the creation of the said office, its budget as well as the designation of its staff, had already been approved and delineated in earlier Resolutions of the Court, lawyer Jojo Lacanilao, one of Sereno's spokespersons, said in a statement.

The Chief Justice, after studying the problems besetting far-flung courts, simply implemented these earlier Court En Banc resolutions creating Regional Court Administration Office (RCAO)in the seventh judicial region. Contrary to Complainant's baseless allegations, there is no En Banc Resolution nullifying, superseding or otherwise 'scrapping' the Supreme Court's resolutions creating the RCAO-7, including the assailed 27 November 2012 Resolution in A.M. No.12-11-9-SC, he explained.

De Castro specifically cited Sereno's AO issued on Nov. 27, 2012 creating the Judiciary Decentralized Office (JDO) and reopening RCAO-7 in Cebu.

Sereno also appointed Geraldine Faith Econg, then head of the SC's program management office who is now a justice in the Sandiganbayan, as head of RCAO-7.

The administrative case involving the RCAO controversy was among the 27 issues raised in the impeachment complaint filed by lawyer Lorenzo Gadon who accused Sereno of culpable violation of the Constitution, betrayal of public trust, corruption and other high crimes.

The camp of Sereno also said the Chief Justice, during recess, is expressly empowered to act on urgent cases requiring immediate action, even without the recommendation of the Member-in-Charge.

The Chief Justice gave due consideration to Justice De Castro's 'Recommendatory Action'. However, since Justice De Castro was merely 'recommending' a course of action to the Chief Justice, and further considering that the proposed 'temporary restraining order' was merely a 'draft', the Chief Justice can wholly accept, modify or even reject Justice De Castro's recommendation, Lacanilao said.

He added the Chief Justice could not be accused of falsifying anything, saying that in the exercise of her own discretion and authority to issue TROs when the court is in recess, the Chief Justice could issue a temporary restraining order under terms she considered just and proper.

Apart from this issue, De Castro also testified on the TRO in the case involving the disqualification case of Senior Citizens party-list group in the May 2016 elections.

She also testified on the merits of the decision she penned that declared unconstitutional the clustering of shortlisted nominees made by the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) last year in connection with the vacancies in the Sandiganbayan.

De Castro has also been authorized by the Court to discuss the merits of her separate concurring opinion in the August 2014 ruling that voided the JBC's decision not to include the name of the Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza on the shortlist of nominees for SC justice post after Sereno raised an integrity issue against him.

The senior magistrate was joined by SC Court Administrator Jose Midas Marquez in testifying before the impeachment hearing. He discussed the administrative processes in the high court.

Apart from De Castro, the House panel also invited Associate Justices Jardeleza and Noel Tijam, retired Associate Justice Arturo Brion, spokesperson Theodore Te, clerk of court Felipa Anama and chief judicial staff officer Charlotte Labayani but all of them skipped the hearing for various reasons.

On Tuesday, the high court allowed its employees as well some Associate Justices to appear before the House justice committee to testify in the impeachment proceedings against Sereno.

The SC unanimously voted to allow the magistrates and employees to appear in connection with the invitation of the House justice committee on the matter.

Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio presided over the en banc deliberations after Sereno decided to inhibit being the one involved on the matter.

Source: Philippine News Agency