MANILA— Lawyer Lorenzo Gadon on Thursday slammed Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno’s refusal to show up in the House justice committee hearing on the impeachment complaint filed against her.
Gadon, complainant in the impeachment case, was referring to Sereno’s decision to reject the House justice committee’s invitation for the hearing last Wednesday only to again appear in successive public forums the day after.
“CJ Sereno claims she wants to focus on her duties in the SC, but why is she everywhere else discussing her case in media interviews?” Gadon asked.
Gadon earlier accused Sereno of rallying support from the public, which she did not get from the judiciary.
Sereno’s camp, meanwhile, said the Chief Justice was represented by her lawyers in the House hearing.
“The Committee did not allow them to participate in the proceedings on the Chief Justice’s behalf as they have no interest in passively watching and listening to the proceedings while their client’s right to due process is being curtailed. Their polite departure from the session hall was thus warranted,” Sereno said in response to Gadon’s allegation.
Gadon rebutted the claim of Sereno’s lawyers that she could not personally attend to her impeachment case because she has duties in the judiciary to attend to.
But lawyer Josa Deinla, one of Sereno’s spokespersons said that conducting media interviews and attending certain public forums, in as much as they would make an informed citizenry and promote respect for the rule of law, are also part of the duties of the Chief Justice.
“Would the complainant further want to muzzle the Chief Justice in these public spaces?,” Deinla said in a statement.
“By insisting on the Chief Justice’s personal appearance at the hearings, complainant is not only calling for the violation of her constitutional right to counsel, he is moreover forgetting that she is not responsible for proving her innocence. The onus to prove the allegations still lies on complainant. On this we trust that he’ll miserably fail, judging by yesterday’s events–where has started to get caught in his own web of lies and even perjured himself,” Sereno camp added.
Meanwhile, Sereno was keynote speaker in the Integrated Bar of the Philippines Pagtugon sa Hamon forum in Taguig City on Thursday morning and was also guest speaker in the Philippine Institute of Certified Public Accountants’s 72nd Annual Convention in Pasay City in the afternoon.
In her keynote address during the forum called “Pagtugon sa Hamon: A Call to the Rule of Law, Access to Justice and Human Rights” held at the SMX Convention Center in Taguig City, Sereno said the Constitution provides for the “best logical and operational framework” to advance human rights.
She said the Constitution tasks not only the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), but also the judiciary and other independent constitutional offices, such as the Commission on Audit (COA), the Civil Service Commission (CSC) and the Office of the Ombudsman, to serve as “institutions of accountability” when it comes to human rights protection.
“The framework of accountability relies on the faithful discharge of duties by these independent institutions of accountability,” Sereno said, as she emphasized the need for these institutions to work in parallel with other professional justice agencies, namely the Department of Justice (DOJ) and its attached agencies.
These DOJ attached agencies include the National Prosecution Service, Public Attorney’s Office, National Bureau of Investigation, Bureau of Correction, and the Board of Pardon and Parole.
Sereno said “pressure” must continually be exerted on these institutions “to ensure that impunity ends, accountability is consistently exacted, the rule of law established and of course, resultantly, that human rights are protected.”
“Pressure is important, pressure must be continually built up, in all fora, venues and information platform –for all public officers to respect human rights, to not issue any statement that encourages a disregard for human rights, and to investigate human rights violations,” Sereno told the forum.
Organized by the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP), the Asia Foundation, and the CHR, the forum tackled the government’s campaign against illegal drugs, its legal and regulatory framework, and its implications in relation to human rights protection and the criminal justice system.
Sereno particularly urged members of the IBP, the country’s premier organization of lawyers, to exert pressure on the police to solve crimes, such as murder, rape, robbery and widespread thievery.
“If you keep silent about these crimes, wittingly or unwittingly, you will be considered as complicit to impunity, by your perceived indifference to the victims of rape, murder, and similarly horrendous atrocities,” Sereno told IBP members.
The camp of Sereno, on the other hand, slammed Gadon for using the impeachment hearing as a venue for “fishing expedition” in a desperate and vicious effort to obtain evidence against the top magistrate.
“It has always been our position that the people’s money should never fund a fishing expedition and unfortunately, this was what exactly happened in Wednesday’s hearing,” said Deinla.
Deinla noted that the said hearing, which was the start of the committee’s determination of probable cause, was marked by several requests from Gadon to subpoena witnesses and documents.
“It is pretty clear that Mr. Gadon’s allegations have no strong and solid bases, owing to his failure to provide the justice committee with evidence he claimed to have personal knowledge of,” Deinla said. “We are right from the beginning that his impeachment complaint was nothing but garbage and should have not been entertained in the first place.”
While the move by Gadon and some members of the justice panel bolsters contention on the absence of evidence against the Chief Justice, Deinla said it was appalling that they had to embark on a “fishing trip” for evidence.
Sereno’s spokesperson said it was not right for the justice committee, chaired by Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali, to allow Gadon “to put the cart before the horse and get away with it.”
“Mr. Gadon’s resorting to fishing expedition, with the aid of some members of the committee, served to highlight one crucial fact—there is no solid evidence and sufficient grounds for impeachment against the Chief Justice,” she pointed out.
In Wednesday’s hearing, Ako Bicol Rep. Rodel Batocabe noticed Gadon’s failure to state specifically the years covered by his allegation pertaining to the Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) of the Chief Justice.
“At first glance, with due respect to this committee, it seems that we are now on a fishing expedition because we do not have a definite year of SALN,” Batocabe said during the hearing.
Gadon, in the impeachment complaint that he filed, claimed that Sereno did not declare in her SALN her earnings from the time she was a lawyer for the government in its arbitration case against the Philippine International Air Terminals Co. Inc. (PIATCO). He said that Sereno earned P37 million, but her lawyers said it amounted to only P30.3 million.
Sereno’s lawyers insisted that the allegation pertaining to the SALN had no factual basis. They said there could be no misdeclaration in the SALN since the legal fees she earned from the PIATCO case for the period 2003-2008 were received prior to her appointment to the Supreme Court in 2010.
They added that since Sereno was only required to declare her assets as of end of 2009, much of the legal fees she obtained during the five-year period had already been spent and part of it was invested in assets that were declared in her SALN from 2009 up to present.
Gadon’s complaint contains four grounds for impeachment including culpable violation of the Constitution, corruption, other high crimes, and betrayal of public trust.
Umali said the committee deliberations on November 27, 28, and 29 would cover the grounds of culpable violation of the Constitution and corruption.
Meanwhile, the two remaining grounds for impeachment, specifically betrayal of public trust and other high crimes, will be tackled by the justice committee on December 4, 5, and 6.
The justice committee already started its deliberations today whether the impeachment complaint against Sereno has probable cause based on the first ground of culpable violation of the Constitution.
Some lawmakers grilled Gadon for lacking personal knowledge, as well as authentic documents, to back his allegations against Sereno.