MANILA — The camp of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno said the testimonies of witnesses will not affect the impeachment case filed against her before the House justice committee.
Lawyer Winnie Salumbides, one of Sereno’s spokespersons, made the statement in response to the possible appearance and testimony of Supreme Court Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo De Castro before the House justice committee regarding the case.
Lawyer Lorenzo Gadon, the complainant in the case, said De Castro is the source of some information he stated in his complaint, particularly the internal administrative matters of the High Court, through a common “friend,” whom he identified as Manila Times reporter Jomar Canlas.
Salumbides said it would be “highly irregular” for a magistrate to take the witness stand, especially in an impeachment proceeding against a fellow justice who happens to be the head of the entire judiciary.
“As a lawyer, I find it highly irregular for a magistrate for a Supreme Court justice to go down and take the witness stand. Medyo kinikilabutan po ako. Mahirap naman po ata na ‘yung hukom o yung huwes, biglang nagiging testigo (I get shivers. It will be difficult if the judge or the magistrate will become a witness),” Salumbides told a recent weekly media forum in Quezon City.
“It’s unconventional, pero kung matatamaan ang aming depensa o hindi, wala ho kaming pangamba. Wala kaming makitang dahilan para mabahala (It is unconventional but regardless if it will affect our defense, we are not worried),” he added.
The House justice committee, which is now in the process of determining probable cause to impeach Sereno, had already invited De Castro to attend the impeachment hearing to shed light on some of the allegations hurled by Gadon against the top magistrate.
During the hearings on Wednesday, Gadon admitted he had no personal knowledge of the allegations contained in his complaint, particularly on his accusation that the Chief Justice “falsified” a certain SC resolution.
When pressed several times by congressmen if he had direct, personal knowledge, Gadon said his information was only relayed to him by Canlas.
The complainant added he was told by Canlas that he got the information from De Castro, prompting the committee to invite the associate justice to next week’s hearing.
That same day, De Castro denied Gadon’s claim that was made under oath before the justice panel.
“I have never released to Jomar Canlas any information, report, or document regarding the work of the Supreme Court,” De Castro said in a statement.
Following De Castro’s denial, House justice committee chair and Mindoro Oriental Rep. Reynaldo Umali warned that Gadon may be held liable for perjury for his false statements made under oath.
Gadon’s revelation has put the spotlight on De Castro for her possible violation of the Internal Rules of the SC, which safeguard the confidentiality of sessions and internal documents of the high tribunal.
The SC sessions are executive in character, with only its members present. The deliberations are confidential and should not be disclosed to outside parties, except if authorized by the court.
Moreover, the SC rollos may only be released upon an official written request from the Judicial Staff Head or the Chief of Office of the requesting office. All persons handling the rollos are bound by the same strict confidentiality rules.
Aguirre ready to testify
Meanwhile, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre said that he is willing to testify on the impeachment complaint filed against the Chief Justice
“Syempre kapag sinubpoena ka talagang magtetestify ka pero basta ang sasabihin ko lang yung totoo. But as to whether ako ang nagprovide ng documents, hindi wala ako. I will testify if there is subpoena and I will always say the truth. But as to the one who provided documents, I don’t have any idea about it,” Aguirre told reporters during a press briefing in DOJ on Friday.
Gadon cited in the impeachment complaint that the Chief Justice allegedly manipulated and thereafter delayed the resolution of A.M. No. 17-06-02-SC pertaining to the request of the Secretary of Justice to transfer the Maute cases outside of Mindanao after realizing that she lost in the voting.
Gadon’s allegation stemmed from Aguirre’s request to Sereno to transfer the proceedings of detained Maute members facing rebellion charges to Metro Manila due to security concerns and lack of adequate detention facilities.
But the Supreme Court (SC) on June 6 instead assigned the Cagayan de Oro Regional Trial Court (RTC) to hear, try and decide all cases and incidents in connection with the Marawi attacks.
Aguirre, however, disagreed with the tribunal, insisting that the designated courts are “too near to the Lanaos and Marawi City.”
On July 18, the SC announced that it approved the DOJ’s request to have the Maute cases transferred to the Taguig RTC instead of the Cagayan de Oro RTC.
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 set from Monday until Wednesday 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.