BAGUIO, Philippines – While she maintains that she has consistently filed all the Statements of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALNs) that she was required to file, Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno told the Supreme Court (SC) on Tuesday, April 10, that the SALN is not a requirement of integrity.
“It doesn’t rise to the level of an integrity question. Remember that the integrity rules of the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) are clear: police clearance, NBI clearance, Ombudsman clearance, court clearance – those are the evidence of integrity and I submitted all of that. SALN is not at all mentioned ever in the JBC as an integrity document,” Sereno told Associate Justice Noel Tijam.
The Chief Justice faces potential ouster through a quo warranto petition on the allegation that she did not file several SALNs, a criminal charge and something she denies.
The non-submission of some SALNs to the JBC is something she has admitted, though she explained that the JBC considered her to have “substantially complied.” She reasoned that SALNs dating years back are “infeasible” to retrieve.
Tijam pointed out, however, that the public announcement of the JBC for applications for chief justice specified the SALN as a requirement, and stated that those who could not comply would not be interviewed.
“So they said substantial compliance,” Sereno said once more.
Earlier, Associate Justice Marvic Leonen said integrity cannot be measured by a piece of paper, apparently referring to the SALN.
Leonen was deemed to be at odds with Sereno – his longtime University of the Philippines (UP) colleague and friend – when he joined the calls for the Chief Justice to take an indefinite leave. Before this, they were perceived to be allies.
On Tuesday, Leonen’s line of questioning sided with Sereno on at least this particular defense. He said: “If our measure of integrity is only a piece of paper, then God help us!”
Several law experts have denounced making the SALN the end-all-be-all of integrity and competence of public officials.
But Sereno could not escape the fact that her predecessor Renato Corona, whom she did not see eye to eye with, was ousted because of his SALN.
Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo De Castro took the chance to remind Sereno that she once wrote in a dissenting opinion: “Failure to comply is prima facie evidence of unexplained wealth.”
But Sereno said bringing that up is misleading as she “was only talking about disproportionate wealth that cannot be explained.”
“Not this nitpicking! There is no issue of ill-gotten wealth here at all!” Sereno said in a raised voice, a tone she maintained throughout the deliberations.
Sereno had a variation of explanations on why she could not produce the SALNs that she said she filed, but were just missing.
- She was young so she could not remember who notarized it (when asked to identify the notary public in a bid to track the document down).
- Nobody accosted her (as she said it is the task of the head of office to make sure all members file their SALNs).
De Castro called Sereno’s explanations “excuses.”
Associate Justice Francis Jardeleza also told Sereno: “You are layering a lot of defenses whether you filed or did not file.”
The Chief Justice anchored her defense on an administrative case against a court sheriff.
The sheriff was dismissed, but the SC ruled that the lack of physical proof of filed SALNs is insufficient basis to say that he did not file his SALNs. The Chief Justice cited that repeatedly on Tuesday.
But Tijam told Sereno: “Integrity is not founded in jurisprudence. It is founded in honesty, truthfulness – that’s integrity.” – Rappler.com