MANILA -- The camp of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno on Monday said it is expecting that the “vilification campaign” against the top magistrate would worsen in the coming days in time for the resumption of the House impeachment hearing on January 15.

Lawyer Jojo Lacanilao, one of Sereno’s spokespersons, pointed out that not a single impeachable offense was proven during the hearings, which even saw four incumbent and retired Supreme Court justices testifying before the justice panel.

“We expect her detractors to intensify their smear campaign against the Chief Justice to cover up for the fatally defective impeachment case. It is our position that if there is a strong case against the Chief Justice, it should have long been elevated to the Senate for trial,” Lacanilao said in a statement.

“Not even the testimonies of the justices, which pertain to differences in opinion with respect to internal processes of the Supreme Court, were enough to prove that the Chief Justice committed an impeachable offense that would warrant her removal from office,” he added.

Lacanilao maintained that the report about the 10 justices testifying at the impeachment hearing was part of a “psywar campaign” to condition the mind of the public and make it appear that the Chief Justice is losing support among her colleagues in the high tribunal.

“Again, this is part and parcel of a propaganda designed to project that Chief Justice does not enjoy the support of her colleagues in the Supreme Court, which is actually not the case,” he said.

The lawyer also deplored insinuations that these justices are testifying “against” the Chief Justice, when in fact, the testimonies of some of the justices may not even be against her.

Three sitting magistrates -- Associate Justices Teresita Leonardo De Castro, Francis Jardeleza and Noel Tijam -- have already appeared before the justice committee. Invitations have been sent to Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, and Associate Justices Samuel Martires and Mariano Del Castillo.

“Given the possible nature of their testimonies, it is unfair to conclude that the justices who are invited to the coming hearings are testifying against the Chief Justice,” Lacanilao said.

Sereno's spokesperson said that Carpio, for instance, is expected to testify on the allegation that Sereno manipulated the shortlist of the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) to exclude then Solicitor General Jardeleza.

It was Carpio who complained about Jardeleza’s deletion of the Itu Aba discussions in the Philippine submissions to the United Nations tribunal that heard and decided the arbitration case filed by the Philippines against China over the issue of West Philippine Sea.

Carpio’s main contention was that Jardeleza had seriously compromised the Philippine interests in deleting the country’s position that Itu Aba is not an island but a rock. If the arbitral tribunal did not rule on this, Itu Aba would be the basis for China to encroach on Philippine territory.

He added that Jardeleza’s stand on the issue gave Sereno, as JBC ex-officio chair, reasonable grounds to doubt his integrity and moral fitness to become a member of the highest court of the land.

He noted that Del Castillo has been invited to explain why the High Court purchased a security vehicle for the Chief Justice since he was the one who recommended to the en banc the purchase of the vehicle.

Martires, on the other hand, will testify merely on his decision in the case involving the grant of survivorship benefits to spouses of deceased justices and judges, where the Chief Justice voted with him, Sereno spokesperson said.
The impeachment complaint, filed by lawyer Lorenzo Gadon, 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 House Committee on Justice has voted to declare that there was sufficient ground to proceed with the impeachment proceedings filed by Gadon. (PNA)