SC magistrates grill Sereno on quo warrranto plea

BAGUIO CITY — The Supreme Court on Tuesday started the oral arguments on the quo warranto petition filed by the Office Solicitor General against Chief Justice on-leave Maria Lourdes Sereno in seeking to nullify her appointment over alleged non-filing of her Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Networth (SALN).

During the start of the oral arguments, Solicitor General Jose Calida argued that Sereno is not fit to hold the top judicial post for her failure to comply with requirements under the law, noting the Chief Justice’s failure to submit 11 SALNs during her 20-year tenure in the University of the Philippines (UP) and the truthfulness of the SALNs she submitted to the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC).

The submission of the SALN is a requirement by the JBC when she applied for the associate justice post in 2010 and for the chief justice post in 2012, Calida said.

While, admitting that Sereno is an impeachable officer, Calida said that she may still be ousted from office through a quo warranto petition.

He said the offenses that may warrant the filing of a quo warranto petition are different from the offenses that would warrant the filing of an impeachment complaint.

“A quo warranto ousts a public officer on the ground of ineligibility or failing to meet the qualifications for such public office, at the time of his appointment, while impeachment removes a validly appointed or elected impeachable officer upon conviction of any of the impeachable offenses committed while in office,” Calida noted.

During the interpellation, a heated exchange between Sereno and Associate Justice Teresita de Castro erupted on the former’s failure to submit copies of her SALNs which she claimed she had filed.

De Casto accused Sereno of failing to religiously comply with Section 7 or Republic Act No. 3019 which requires every public officer, within 30 days after assuming office, and within the month of January of every other year thereafter.

“You’re making a lot of excuses for not filing your SALN…You are blaming everyone, but the point is have you religiously filed your SALN?,” De Castro told the Chief Justice.

De Castro was referring to the failure of Sereno to provide the JBC copies of her SALNs which she was supposed to file while she was still working at UP as well as her confusing SALNs that she submitted to the JBC in 2010.

She noted that Sereno submitted to the JBC on July 27, 2010 her SALN for 2006 despite that the requirement was the submission of her latest SALN.

But Sereno rebutted that the only available form online was 2006 when the JBC was asking for her submission of her SALNs immediately.

Sereno said she had a written 2010 on the form which should be the one considered.

For his part, Associate Justice Francis Jardeleza noted Sereno citing several excuses in claiming why she failed to present her missing SALNs.

“It seems to me you are layering a lot of reasons about why you did not file. You are not presenting us evidence to the contrary, your assertion is that you filed,” Jardeleza said.

Sereno, however, insisted that she could no longer find copies of her SALN, insisting that she consistently filed such documents as required by law.

Associate Justice Noel Tijam, meanwhile, pointed out that Sereno was making a lot of excuses in not presenting copies of her SALN.

“You filed but couldn’t find them, you were not reminded, or the others also did not also file…The filing of a SALN is a constitutional and statutory requirement,” Tijam said.

Sereno said the fact the JBC shortlisted her proved that its members, including then JBC ex-officio chair Supreme Court Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta, found her to have “substantially complied” with all the requirements, including the submission of SALNs.

JBC records showed that Sereno submitted three SALNs, which she filed annually since she was appointed SC Associate Justice in 2010. The SALNs covered the years 2009, 2010 and 2011. Sereno was in private practice prior to her appointment to the high court.

“Everything was done in good faith. If they (JBC members) found that my three SALNs were not sufficient, they could have struck me out of the shortlist,” Sereno said during the oral arguments while responding to questions by De Castro.

“I never knew what was happening inside the JBC. If they considered that sufficient, then that’s it. How could I second guess?” Sereno added.

She noted that the JBC had 11 chances to exclude her from the shortlist on the ground of her incomplete submission of SALNs, but it never did.

Sereno said that she filed her SALNs with UP but could not retrieve it within three days.

She also submitted a copy of the clearance dated Sept. 19, 2018 issued by the UP, clearing her of “all academic/administrative responsibilities, money and property accountabilities and from administrative charges as of 01 June 2006,”which meant that her SALNs were properly filed and accomplished.

Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio ended the oral arguments by directing both parties to submit their respective memoranda and pertinent documents on or before April 20, 2018.

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