VACC goes to Ombudsman to oust Sereno, sue Aquino

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Suspended lawyer Eligio Mallari filed a graft complaint on Monday, February 26, against former president Benigno Aquino III, Supreme Court (SC) Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, and Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) officials over the Chief Justice's appointment in 2012.

He was aided by Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) lawyer Manny Luna, in the group's latest attempt to oust Sereno.

Though Sereno can only be removed by impeachment, the VACC's theory is that her appointment was void from the start. They are asking the Office of the Ombudsman to investigate it.

Mallari had earlier filed a petition for quo warranto proceedings against Sereno before the Office of the Solicitor General. A quo warranto proceeding determines if the public official has the right to hold his or her office. (READ: Sereno tries to balance self-defense, healing wounds in SC)

"She is a de facto chief justice because of violation of intrinsic requirements of the JBC," Luna told reporters.

Graft

Mallari filed the complaint before the Office of the Ombudsman on Monday, including as respondents JBC Executive Director Annaliza Ty-Capacite and Chief of Office of Selection and Nomination Richard Pascual.

In his graft complaint, Mallari said the officials violated Section 3(e) of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act when they allowed Sereno's application and then appointment even though the Chief Justice did not submit all her Statements of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALNs).

Section 3e prohibits, among others, the grant of unwarranted benefits to a party and causing undue injury to government and/or a private party.

In Mallari's playbook, the JBC officials gave Sereno unwarranted benefits while Aquino caused undue injury to the senior justices who were bypassed by Sereno's appointment.

"Aquino III had violated section 3(e), RA 3019 just by causing undue injury to Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, Associate Justices Presbitero Velasco Jr, Teresita Leonardo-De Castro and retired justices Roberto Abad and Arturo Brion and the Government not only for turning a blind eye on then-justice Sereno's non-compliance with the JBC's 10-year SALN requirement, but also for disregarding her dismal psychiatric examination result of 4 (5 is lowest and 1 highest)," the complaint reads.

In an interview on the sidelines of the House probe into the Dengvaxia controversy on Monday, Aquino said the JBC should respond to the accusation and not him.

"Sinasabi nilang kulang 'yung submissions. Eh sila dapat yata ang sumagot no'n, dahil sinabi nila sa akin pagbigay ng listahan, eh qualified 'to. 'Yun 'yung hirap 'no – magbibigay ng listahan, ito ang qualified, mamimili ka ro'n. 'Yung pinili mo, oo nga pala, hindi qualified – ano ba talaga?" the former president said.

(They are saying that there were missing submissions. The JBC should respond to that, because when they gave me the shortlist, they told me those people were qualified. That's what's difficult – you are given a shortlist, these are the qualified people, choose from that list. But by the way, the one you chose, she's not qualified. What is it really?)

Substantial compliance

The SC en banc has already asked Sereno to explain to them the issue. 

Among the things to explain, according to a well-placed source, is Sereno's letter to the JBC back in 2012 in which she said she should be exempt from the requirement to submit all her SALNs because it was difficult to find them.

Capacite said in a House hearing that they enforced for Sereno what is called substantial compliance, treating as sufficient her attempt to submit the SALNs.

Capacite said Sereno submitted to the JBC her SALNs from 2009 to 2011 only.

Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta, who chaired the JBC in a holdover capacity after Renato Corona was ousted, said Sereno should have submitted at least 10 SALNs. Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo-De Castro agreed with Peralta and said there was injustice and manipulation in the JBC's shortlisting of Sereno.

"De Castro said JBC decided substantial compliance would mean 10 SALNs, the basis being SALNs must be kept for a period of 10 years," Mallari said in his complaint.

Complainant Larry Gadon wants to go beyond the 10-year shelf life and wants to hold Sereno accountable for not filing SALNs throughout her entire stay in the University of the Philippines (UP), which spans 20 years.

Luna said Aquino is liable because even though Peralta admitted that the irregularity slipped his scrutiny, Malacañang should have detected it.

"The Palace has its own vetting process. Even though the JBC conducts its own vetting process, the Palace has an independent and more thorough process. Given all the machinery at the disposal of the president, I don't think PNoy didn't find out, he just turned a blind eye," Luna said in Filipino.

Sereno's camp maintains that UP's clearance of Sereno when she resigned is sufficient proof of regularity. – 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.

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