De Castro says Sereno misled SC justices

Supreme Court Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo-de Castro faces a House panel hearing on the impeachment complaint against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno Wednesday.

MANILA — After realizing she had been “misled” by Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno on the supposed ratification of an order and other issues, Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo-de Castro said she sought clarification from the chief magistrate but received none.

It was one of the grievances raised by De Castro yesterday before the House justice committee at the resumption of hearings on the impeachment complaint against the Chief Justice.

The committee, chaired by Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali, was trying to establish probable cause to impeach Sereno for culpable violation of the Constitution, betrayal of public trust and corruption, based on a complaint filed by lawyer Lorenzo Gadon.

De Castro said Sereno unilaterally created an office in the judiciary – an act tantamount to usurpation of Congress’ legislative power and a clear disregard for the decision of her 14 other colleagues in the Supreme Court.

“The chief justice cannot create an office because it is a legislative power,” De Castro told the committee.

The senior magistrate likewise testified she was “taken aback” when Sereno invited her and the other justices in November 2012 – just a few months after her appointment as chief justice in August – and “made it appear” the judiciary was reviving the Regional Court Administrative Office (RCAO).

Digging deeper into the matter, De Castro said she discovered that Sereno had actually created a Judiciary Decentralized Office in Region 7, which was “not sanctioned” at all by the full SC, unlike the RCAO which has a complete set of officers.

She said she learned from now retired clerk of court Enriqueta Vidal that Sereno “misled” her staff into declaring to her categorically that the 15 justices “ratified” her administrative order creating RCAO, when in fact no ratification had taken place.

“She (Sereno) cannot do it alone. She is only one vote,” De Castro pointed out. “She didn’t reply to my memos. She didn’t even reply during our deliberations. This is a subtle way of overturning the court,” she added, when asked of Sereno’s reaction when confronted.

But she declined to answer when asked by committee members if the SC chief could have directly violated the Charter, and thus could be held liable – or impeachable – for “culpable violation of the 1987 Constitution.”

“I can’t answer that question,” a smiling De Castro told House Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas, who pointed out that “nilabag ng punong hukom ang konstitusyon dahil ang napag desisyunan ng buong Korte Suprema ay ginampanan niya lamang ng sarili niya (The Chief Justice violated the Constitution because she arrogated to herself the entire court’s task of making a decision).”

With De Castro at yesterday’s hearing was Court Administrator Jose Midas Marquez.
House Deputy Speaker Gwendolyn Garcia and Leyte Rep. Vicente Veloso – a former Court of Appeals justice – also made the same observations.

“There was culpable violation of the Constitution because the resolution didn’t reflect what really transpired,” Garcia said.

De Castro – a former Sandiganbayan justice, DOJ state counsel and SC staffer – also told Garcia “no one” among her peers tried to correct her when she called Sereno’s attention to the “misleading and misnomer” administrative order creating a redundant office.

“There was completely no reply. Bakit nung kini-question ko iyun hindi siya sumasagot? Tahimik ho siya. Kami kami lang namang mga justices ang nag-uusap (Why was she not answering when I was questioning her. She was quiet. It’s only wethe justices who were talking among ourselves). What she intends to do is to create another office,” she related.
On another impeachment charge, De Castro also bared to Umali’s committee Sereno’s “falsification” of a temporary restraining order that could have benefited more party-list groups other than the senior citizens party.

“I explicitly recommended a TRO. It was very specific. It pertains to their disqualification. Fourteen party-list groups were proclaimed, but when I submitted it in the afternoon it ballooned to 53,” she recalled.

“I didn’t get a positive response (from Sereno). I received a TRO which was not my recommendation,” De Castro stated, noting that the TRO’s “tenor” expanded to include directing Comelec to “stop proclaiming all party-list groups” instead of just one – for senior citizens.

“It is very basic that you cannot include just anyone. That will violate the right of others to due process. They will be deprived of their representation in Congress,” she emphasized.

In the same senior citizens case, De Castro told Fariñas the SC “upheld” her position.
De Castro also said her decision to appear before the committee was not motivated by emotions, but by her belief that truth should be laid bare despite the consequences.

“Your honor, I’ve been serving as justice for 20 years. I have no right to be a justice if I let emotions affect me, because if I’m so full of emotions and feelings, then I should leave the judiciary,” she told Siquijor Rep. Ramon Rocamora.

She was trying to fend off insinuations made by the lawmaker – who belongs to the opposition Liberal Party but is now allied with President Duterte’s PDP-Laban – that senior justices could have been envious of Sereno, a junior jurist promoted to the court’s highest office.

“Itong pag-appoint kay Chief Justice Sereno, anong magagawa ko? The President (then president Aquino) appointed her. She was nominated by the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC). What should I do?” De Castro said.

“Perhaps, you should check first if my actions have basis. If there’s none, then that’s time you can say that my actions are stirred by emotions. I have documents to explain why I did what I did,” she said in Filipino.

“I can’t stand idly by when the power of SC is being undermined and when our decisions reached by the collective wisdom of the justices of SC are being set aside or changed. I should speak up. What kind of a justice am I if I just accept what’s happening that’s not in accordance with the Constitution and the law?” she added.

Sereno was the most junior among the 15 SC justices when Aquino appointed her chief magistrate in August 2012, a few months after the late chief justice Renato Corona was convicted by the Senate impeachment court in May.

Sereno – then 50 years old – was first appointed SC justice by Aquino in August 2010, shortly after winning the presidential elections. She was promoted to Chief Justice – the second youngest and the first woman to hold the position – two years later, when the vacancy occurred due to Corona’s ouster.

The 52-year-old Sereno will stay on for 18 years – or until 2030 – spanning four administrations, from Aquino, incumbent President Duterte and two more others to be elected in 2022 and 2028. The mandatory retirement age for SC justices is 70.

In mid-2012, Sereno, De Castro, senior SC Justices Antonio Carpio and Roberto Abad, along with former PCGG chairman and Comelec chairman Andres Bautista, were among the five nominees chosen by the JBC to replace Corona.

Carpio, Abad and De Castro were appointees of Aquino’s predecessor, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.