MANILA, Philippines – Integrity cannot be measured by a piece of paper alone.
Associate Justice Marvic Leonen pointed out during oral arguments on quo warranto proceedings against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno on Tuesday, April 10, that the ultimate measure of integrity is the “ability of a justice not to be swayed or pressured by yellow, red, black, or any political color.”
“If our measure of integrity is only a piece of paper, then God help us!” Leonen said, prompting applause from those attending oral arguments held by the Supreme Court en banc in Baguio.
The Judicial and Bar Council (JBC), which screens appointees to the judiciary, has not been consistent in its requirement for the filing of Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALNs).
Leonen said there were years when it did not require SALNs to be filed, and there were years when only two SALNs were deemed acceptable for applicants – as was the case of Sereno when she applied to be associate justice of the Supreme Court.
If no SALNs were filed, there would not have been a way to measure integrity and it would be “possible to quo warranto all of them,” Leonen said, referring to all justices.
A quo warranto proceeding is a legal rmeans to void an appointment. It is separate and different from the course of impeachment initiated by the House of Representatives.
The SC oral arguments have focused on the issue of Sereno’s non-filing of SALNs, a ground for quo warranto proceedings as far as Solicitor General Jose Calida is concerned. Sereno herself has disputed the legality of the proceedings, arguing that, as chief justice, she can only be removed from office by impeachment.
Sereno supposedly did not file 17 of her 20 SALNs from the time she was a professor at the University of the Philippines (UP). The JBC told the House committee on justice that they applied a substantial compliance rule when Sereno applied to be chief justice.
No bribes, no stealing
In his series of questions addressed to Sereno, Leonen established that, as associate professor at the UP College of Law, she could not be accused of stealing or being bribed because she was on leave from 2000 to 2006.
Sereno was not given any teaching assignment or assigned any research project by then UP College of Law dean Raul Pangalangan. She went on leave, Sereno said, “to explore other opportunities.”
Replying to additional questions of Leonen, Sereno said her net worth in 1998 was P1.84 million. This increased to P24.249 million as of 2016, reflecting joint income and assets with her husband, whom she described as someone who “earns well.”
Leonen asked rhetorically, “The increase from 1999 to the present, would you say it is normal, and not in the hundreds of millions?”
He also referred to the year 2010 when then chief justice Renato Puno retired. Although there was an opening in the Supreme Court, Sereno did not apply for it. Asked if SALNs were required back then for applicants to the Office of the Chief Justice, Sereno replied in the negative. Neither was it formally required for the post of associate justice.
It was only after the impeachment of then-chief justice Renato Corona over unexplained wealth that SALNs were required, Leonen said.
What is more important, he pointed out, is “to catch someone with unexplained wealth.” – Rappler.com