Sereno: No sufficient evidence in impeachment complaint before House

Lian Buan
Sereno's lawyers say that not only are Larry Gadon's documents insufficient evidence, his allegations also do not amount to impeachable offenses

SERENO IMPEACHMENT. Laywer Justine Mendoza (center), among the legal team of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, files a reply before the Committee on Justice at the House of Representatives on September 25, 2017. Photo by Darren Langit/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – Supreme Court (SC) Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno – through her lawyers on Monday, September 25 – filed before the House of Representatives an 85-page verified answer to the impeachment complaint filed against her.

Sereno’s lead lawyer Alex Poblador said complainant Larry Gadon was unable to provide sufficient evidence. The documents Gadon got from the SC, while authentic, were not able to support his allegations, Poblador said.

“Look at the documents, they do not support the charges and what’s left then are newspaper reports and pure conjectures from Gadon,” Poblador said, adding that they may even go as far as making the lawmakers, who allowed the complaint to go this far, accountable.

Poblador was referring to some of Gadon’s allegations about Sereno supposedly trying to coerce the trial court judges in Senator Leila de Lima’s drug trade charges not to issue warrants of arrest. Gadon’s proof there, said Poblador, is a newspaper report citing sources. (READ: ‘Do not be afraid to be minority’: Chief Justice Sereno, 5 years on)

Poblador also said that Gadon’s allegations do not amount to impeachable offenses such as culpable violation of the Constitution, treason, bribery, graft and corruption, other high crimes, and betrayal of public trust.

“The statement is full of general denials and rhetorics which would all crumble if confronted by hard evidences and testimonies of the witnesses,” Gadon said in a statement.

Unilateral acts?

The bulk of Gadon’s complaint is related to Sereno’s actions disputed by her fellow justices. These were all documented through dissenting or concurring opinions and internal memoranda.

Disputing Sereno is Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo de Castro, who has questioned the Chief Justice’s actions without approval of the SC sitting en banc or a full court.

These actions include Sereno’s appointment of the Philippine Mediation Center (PMC) head, travel allowances for her staff, and a flip-flop decision in a temporary restraining order issued during the 2013 elections on partylist proclamations. (READ: Jardeleza’s SC entry and Sereno’s eroding clout)

These issues relate to disagreement among justices as to the extent of the administrative power of the Chief Justice,” Poblador said.

Poblador, who won the case for Senator Grace Poe last year in her nationality legal battle, said that the alleged unilateral acts do not even amount to graft.

De Castro’s recent memorandum – seeking a review, if not actions against Sereno’s decisions – is still pending with the en banc.

Piatco

In 2003, the Philippine government hired the private lawyer Sereno in the arbitration case in Singapore filed against them by Philippine International Air Terminals Co. Inc. (Piatco).

Gadon alleged that Sereno earned a total of P37 million in lawyer’s fees but that these were not declared in her Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN).

“It’s P30 million. It’s not P37 million, Gadon doesn’t even know how much,” Sereno’s spokesperson lawyer Jojo Lacanilao said.

As Lacanilao explained, when these were paid to Sereno, it was already “taxed at source” from the Office of the Solicitor General which paid the private lawyers.

Succeeding deductions were made through Sereno’s eventual income tax returns, said Lacanilao.

In 2012, when she was appointed Chief Justice, Sereno declared only what remained of her Piatco earnings, said Lacanilao.

Lawyer Josa Deinla, another Sereno spokesperson, said it was lawful for Sereno to declare only what remained of the earnings since she had already spent much of it on investments and other assets.

Sereno’s 2016 SALN shows her net worth at P24.2 million, more than P2.76 million compared to her net worth in 2015.

Political?

“I will not discount politics’ role but as lawyers we would like to handle this on basis of evidence and rule of law,” Poblador said. (READ: CJ Sereno asks lawmakers to choose democracy over partisan interest)

A reporter asked the legal team if they believe President Rodrigo Duterte had a hand in the complaint.

“That is irrelevant to us because this is a serious process but we believe the complaint has no basis. We’re confident that despite legal maneuverings, we will win this,” Lacanilao said.

Sereno’s lawyers distributed statements of support from various groups, including the Philippine Association of Law Schools, Integrated Bar of the Philippines, Philippine Bar Association, and National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL).

Asked whether SC employees have also issued a statement of support, given that her fellow justices’ disputes are the source of some of the allegations, Lacanilao said Sereno has instructed the SC staff not to be distracted.

“Sereno doesn’t want to politicize the process, don’t expect to happen now what happened before,” Lacanilao said.

Lacanilao added that Sereno will not resign. Rappler.com 

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.