MANILA — Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II on Tuesday said that Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno had asked him to “tone down” his letter citing security concerns for judges and prosecutors in his request for transfer of Maute cases outside of Mindanao.
Aguirre revealed this before lawmakers in an impeachment hearing against Sereno as the House justice panel tackles the allegation of foot-dragging of the Supreme Court in ordering the transfer of cases of Maute members from Cagayan de Oro to Metro Manila.
Aguirre said in his meeting with Sereno last June 19, the top magistrate told him to highlight instead the aspect that it would allow the military to focus on fighting terrorists rather than attending to detainees.
“She told me, ‘Secretary, with respect to your request, sana i-tone down mo ‘yung contents ng letter na gagawin mo.’” Aguirre said.
Lawyer Lorenzo Gadon, the complainant in the impeachment case against Sereno, accused the latter, among others, of manipulating and delaying the resolution of Aguirre’s request for transfer of Maute cases outside of Mindanao.
Gadon’s allegation stemmed from Aguirre’s letter request to Sereno last May to transfer the proceedings of detained Maute members facing rebellion charges to Metro Manila due to security concerns and lack of adequate detention facilities.
On June 6, the SC assigned the Cagayan de Oro Regional Trial Court (RTC) to hear, try and decide all cases and incidents in connection with the Marawi attacks.
The DOJ chief then made an appeal, citing security concerns forwarded by prosecutors assigned to conduct inquest proceedings and appear in the trial of cases and lack of adequate facilities inside Camp Evangelista, the headquarters of the Army’s 4th Infantry Division.
Aguirre’s request for Taguig courts to try and resolve the cases was finally granted during an en banc session on June 27 but it was only made public by the SC on July 18.
Aguirre, during the same hearing, said he believes there was a “long delay”, spanning about 50 to 52 days, in the SC’s resolution of Aguirre’s request for transfer of Maute cases outside of Mindanao.
“I believe that there was a long delay because lives were at stake,” he said.
Meanwhile, Sereno’s camp said the accusation of “intentional delay” is baseless.
Sereno’s lawyers said Supreme Court en banc which resolved the requests of Secretary Aguirre, not the chief justice herself.
Her lawyers further said that it only took eight days for the high court to act on Aguirre’s request.
“The Supreme Court received Secretary Aguirre’s request on 29 May 2017. It issued its resolution thereon on 6 June 2017,” her lawyers said in a statement.
As for Aguirre’s request for reconsideration, the SC discussed it barely 14 days later or on June 27, 2017.
“Only 14 days later, or on 18 July 2017, the Supreme Court released its resolution granting Secretary Aguirre’s request for reconsideration,” Sereno’s camp said.