MANILA — Supreme Court (SC) Associate Justice Noel Tijam on Monday said Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno failed to act promptly on the transfer of cases of Maute members from Cagayan de Oro to Metro Manila.
Tijam accused Sereno of “dilly-dallying” the resolution of Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II’s request in May to have the cases tried in a court outside Mindanao by not bringing it immediately to the attention of the SC en banc.
“I’m trying to decipher the reason why the Chief Justice did not act on it promptly being the member-in-charge,” Tijam said during the continuation of the impeachment hearing against Sereno.
“She should have taken the initiative of bringing it to the attention of the en banc,” Tijam added.
Tijam noted that Aguirre’s request was not taken up during the June 6 en banc session although it was included in the agenda. He said the matter was instead discussed over lunch after the session.
“There’s a distinct difference between discussing something important during the en banc session and over lunch,” Tijam said.
Tijam said there was a “certain degree of mental dishonesty” because it did not arise in a consultation and deliberation of the court en banc.
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.
Tijam said Sereno might have failed to act on it promptly because “she was not satisfied that the danger, harm, or risk in not transferring of Maute prisoners to Manila would not be large.”
For her part, Associate Justice Teresita De Castro said it is “highly irregular” for the top magistrate to not immediately bring up the matter in the en banc session.
De Castro, who is a member of the raffle panel, said the Maute case was not actually raffled on June 5, which is inconsistent with Sereno’s claim that she is the member in charge of the case.
“There is no rule allowing her to assign the case to herself,” De Castro said.
De Castro noted that since it is an important case, it should have been raffled, assigned, and taken up during an en banc session.
Quezon City Rep. Bingbong Crisologo said that Sereno clearly violated the internal rules of the high court.
Tijam stressed that the Chief Justice is not the Supreme Court and therefore has no absolute powers over the collegial body.
“The Chief Justice is not the Supreme Court. In other words, unlike the chief of a tribe in a community, the chief of a conglomerate, the chief of a group of companies, the Chief Justice cannot overrule, supersede or cancel the decision of the en banc,” Tijam said.
Tijam said he is encouraging Sereno to attend the hearings of the impeachment charge against her so she could explain her actions.