MANILA -- Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno reiterated that she will not resign from her post and will continue to fight for judicial independence despite the attacks at the ongoing impeachment hearings in the House of Representatives which she described as going 'below the belt'.
Lawyer Jojo Lacanilao, one of Sereno's spokespersons, said Sunday such attempts to put the Chief Justice in a bad light, including supposed lack of support from her colleagues in the Supreme Court, were all part of her detractors’ agenda to force the top magistrate to give up her post.
“Officials of Congress have already asked her (Sereno) to resign. We feel it’s below the belt. This is just a squeeze play for her to resign,” Lacanilao said in a statement.
“That’s not going to happen. She will be there. We will ask Congress to actually prove any complaint that they have and [we will face them] in the Senate, and we know we have a strong case,” Lacanilao said.
He said the testimonies of at least six incumbent SC justices had no bearing in the impeachment case because these were purely personal opinions, noting that these were not grounds to remove Sereno from office.
“Most of the things they have said are disagreements with the Chief Justice on how the rules of the Supreme Court would be interpreted. Some of them are complaints about management or maybe leadership style,” Lacanilao said.
He said it was no secret that some of Sereno’s colleagues were not happy when she was appointed Chief Justice as she bypassed other senior associate justices to become the head of the judiciary for 18 years or until she reaches the mandatory retirement age of 70.
According to Lacanilao, it is of public knowledge that some people are out to destroy the Chief Justice.
It is unfortunate, he added, that some of her colleagues in the high court are allowing themselves to be part of the process that’s threatening the independence of the judiciary as a co-equal branch of government.
“We feel like this is a problem with the independence of the Supreme Court now because they (justices) have gone to Congress and laid themselves out,” Lacanilao pointed out.
He added that “in fact, many of them appeared in public and did not appear well. The mystique, mystery of being a Supreme Court justice is gone because some of these justices have already come out and have shown they are also weak and have personal grudges they could not overcome. They have personal issues against the Chief Justice.”
The impeachment complaint filed by lawyer Larry Gadon accuses Sereno of having an extravagant lifestyle and questions her Statement of Assets, Liabilities & Net worth (SALN) and payment of her Income Tax Returns (ITR) in the past five years of being the high court's top magistrate.
He said Sereno has been “very prudent in handling the judiciary’s resources” and there was no truth to allegations that she had been living a luxurious life using public funds.
According to Lacanilao, the SC rules recognize the necessity allowing the Chief Justice to travel on business class. “This is in recognition of her position and the need to provide her with the resources to ensure that she is fully prepared for all her international and local speaking engagements.”
Lacanilao said the SC Human Resource Manual, which was approved by the en banc through A.M. 006-6-1-SC on January 31, 2012 or barely four months before Sereno assumed the top judiciary post, allows the Chief Justice to travel on “full business class.”
“It was the SC that created the rules on the official travels of the Chief Justice and other SC justices. In fact, the rules were recently amended to benefit all the justices and it was the Chief Justice who introduced the amendment to the rules on official travels to give other justices the same privilege to travel on business class,” Lacanilao said, citing an en banc resolution dated July 11, 2017.
He also defended the use of the presidential villa in Shangri-la Boracay during the gathering of the ASEAN chief justices in March 2015, which budget was approved by the 15-member SC en banc.
Lacanilao also explained that Boracay was the ideal venue for the event because it was also where most of the ASEAN meetings were being held.
“Security-wise, it was the most appropriate venue for the meeting of the ASEAN chief justices. Shangri-La Boracay Resort and Spa was chosen because it was the only resort that offers the right facilities and capabilities to secure those attending the high-level meeting,” he added.
Meanwhile, Lacanilao said the purchase of a service vehicle for the Chief Justice was in keeping with security protocol that the highest judge of the land be protected in a security vehicle.
“The purchase of 2017 Toyota Land Cruiser was in confirmity with government procurement processes and policy,” he said.
The policy, he said, included the choice of vehicle that would provide protection for the fifth highest official of the land as provided under Section 3.1 of Department of Budget and Management (DBM) Administrative Order No. 233 and Section 2.2 of DBM Budget Circular No. 2010-2.
Lacanilao said no less than the SC en banc itself approved the acquisition of the Land Cruiser in a resolution dated March 28, 2017 in A.M. No. 17-03-06-SC.
“There was nothing rigged, nothing predetermined, and no instructions given to actually say this is what I want,” Lacanilao said.
Since her appointment to the high court in 2010, Sereno has been using the old service vehicles she inherited from retired SC justices.
“Bullet-proofed blankets were installed inside these vehicles and sometimes, the CJ wears bullet-proofed vest that was given to her by her husband as a gift,” Lacanilao said. (PNA)