MANILA — Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno urged trial court judges to stay focused on their work as dispensers of truth and justice and not to be sidetracked by the political noise meant to oust her as the country’s top magistrate.
“I did not come here to, as some would advise, rally the troops and ask you to wear armbands or hold placards for me,” Sereno said during the gathering of the Philippine Trial Judges League Inc. in its 24th annual convention and biennial election held at The Oriental Hotel in Palo, Leyte on Wednesday.
“I know that, ultimately, such political maneuverings can only erode our branch of government in the long-term, however gratifying it may be at the moment. I have no interest in feeding my ego,” she added.
It was Sereno’s first public appearance since the House Committee on Justice, voting 25-2, declared on October 4 that there is a basis to proceed with the impeachment proceedings even without discussing each of the 27 allegations against her.
The country’s top magistrate told trial court judges that the “greatest demonstration of support” they can give her was to “work hard, work with integrity, be honest in all your dealings, and defend the Constitution as we all swore to do.”
“Remain steadfast in the conduct of your duties; zone out of politics, and decide on your cases with openness, sobriety, and fairness,” she said.
In front of whom she called “frontliners of our courts,” Sereno reiterated that the impeachment proceedings did not bother her because she knew the truth was on her side.
“To tell you the truth, I do not feel as embattled as the news stories may portray me to be,” she said. “As one of my younger staff remarked, ‘Ang chill ni CJ, bagay ang pangalan — Sereno, as in serene… Kalmado‘. (CJ is just chill. Her name just fits her. — Sereno, as in serene…Calm.)”
She added: “I am like this because I know that the truth is on my side. And in a time of constant spin, when narratives are co-opted to serve the personal agenda of a few, the truth is our bedrock.”
“Alam kong hindi ako nagsinungaling, hindi ako nandaya, hindi ako nanlamang ng kapwa, at ginawa ko nang tama ang trabaho ko bilang Punong Mahistrado. (I know that did not lie. I did not cheat. I did not take advantage of my fellow. I performed my duties well as the Chief Justice.) I have enough faith in the truth to sleep soundly at night; I have enough faith in our people, and in our democratic systems, to know that narratives built on lies will eventually crumble,” she said.
The Chief Justice also reminded trial judges that the “greatest battle for our democratic system is not happening in the newspapers, or in other august halls in Manila” but “in your courtrooms.”
“All I ask is that tomorrow, you wake up and resolve to do the best, most honest, fairest work that you can do, and again the day after that, and again the day after that. There is nothing more than a Chief Justice can ask of you,” she said.
The impeachment complaint filed by Gadon contains four grounds for impeachment including culpable violation of the Constitution, corruption, other high crimes, and betrayal of public trust. It also alleged 27 acts constituting the offenses charged.
Among the allegations in the impeachment complaint against Sereno is her failure to declare in her SALN from 2010 to 2016 the PHP30 million she earned as one of the private counsels of government in the arbitration case involving the expropriation of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3.
In 2010 when she was appointed associate justice of the SC, Sereno declared a net worth of PHP17.7 million — almost half only of the PHP30-million pay she got from the NAIA 3 case. A bulk of the amount is the worth of her real properties and vehicles. Only PHP1.5 million was declared as cash in bank and P1.5 million as investments.
In her 2016 SALN, Sereno’s net worth grew to PHP24.2 million.
Lawyer Josa Deinla, one of Sereno’s spokespersons, said the Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Networth (SALN) submitted by Sereno to the SC already included a waiver allowing the Office of the Ombudsman and other bodies to examine the Chief Justice’s assets.
Deinla insisted that the impeachment complaint against Sereno has no basis in the Constitution to warrant a trial.
Earlier, the House Justice Committee found sufficient grounds in the impeachment complaint against Sereno.
A total of 25 lawmakers voted in favor of Misamis Occidental Rep. Henry Oaminal’s motion to approve the sufficiency of the grounds for impeachment against the top magistrate. Only two lawmakers voted against it.