MANILA, Philippines – Supreme Court Associate Justice Noel Tijam on Monday, December 11, called on Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno to attend the impeachment proceedings at the House of Representatives.
The persistent stance of Sereno’s lawyers that she has the right to be represented by counsels is “wrong legal advice,” according to Tijam.
“If she continues to refuse, if she continues to ignore participating in this committee, that would show disdain, that would show contempt to this committee and it’s a constitutional process,” Tijam said.
Tijam was the first resource person on Monday among the 4 justices present at the hearing, including Associate Justice Francis Jardeleza, Teresita Leonardo-De Castro, and retired associate justice Arturo Brion.
Tijam also took note of the day Sereno’s lawyers left the hearing when the committee junked their appeal to cross-examine the witnesses.
“That sets a very bad example,” Tijam said. He said the lawyers "walked out" but they did ask permission from committee chairman Representative Reynaldo Umali to leave the hearing.
Not only did Tijam criticize Sereno’s legal strategy so far, he also had a lot to say against the Chief Justice in relation to the impeachment charges against her.
First, Tijam clarified that he was not the member-in-charge of the case of Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II requesting the transfer of Maute cases to Taguig. Tijam said he circulated an opinion because his “attention was called” to the fact that there had been no action yet.
Tijam said Aguirre is a “personal friend.”
“I’m trying to decipher why the Chief Justice did not act more promptly. I was not member-in-charge but I acted more promptly,” Tijam said.
It turns out that Court Administrator Midas Marquez was “tasked to make a recommendation” on Aguirre’s request. Marquez said he recommended to transfer the cases to Taguig, as Aguirre requested.
But the Supreme Court, in its first resolution, transferred it to Cagayan de Oro. Sereno supposedly said it had been agreed upon by the en banc, but Tijam and De Castro said it was discussed during lunch, not an en banc session.
“There was a certain degree of mental dishonesty,” Tijam said.
“We do not decided cases during lunch,” De Castro said.
On Marquez’s recommendation, Tijam said: “It is unfortunate that the Chief Justice did not trust the court administrator of the Supreme Court. It is unfortunate that she did not heed the Court Administrator. She did not even inform us of such recommendation.”
In criticizing Sereno, Tijam also went as far as hitting the delay in granting survivorship benefits. The delay is due to a bottleneck in a special committee created by the court, adding a layer to what was originally just a process from Marquez’s office direct to the en banc.
“I respect her right to create committees, but when something is urgent, hindi naman natin puwedeng sabihin na mas marunong ang committee sa en banc (we cannot say that the committee is more capable than the en banc),” Tijam said.
But the committee was not created by Sereno alone, but rather by her, Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr.
It was the Technical Working Groups (TWGs), which added more layers, which were created by Sereno. Asked if the offenses constitute a betrayal of public trust, Tijam said: "In this instances, you are the judges."