CHIEF Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno should have been disqualified to head the Supreme Court for failing to submit her Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) as required on applicants to the post, two Supreme Court Justices claimed on Monday.
Justices Diosdado Peralta and Teresita Leonardo de Castro testified before the House Committee on Justice that they were not informed by the Judicial Bar Council (JBC) that Sereno failed to submit her most recent SALNs for the past 10 years as required of all candidates for the position.
Peralta, who presided over the JBC proceedings for nominees for the position vacated by impeached CJ Renato Corona, said the July 20, 2012 letter of Sereno asking for exemption to the submission of SALN was not presented to the council en banc.
“The letter of the Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno dated July 23, 2012 was never presented to the Judicial (and Bar Council) en banc for discussion. I think the minutes will bear that out. Likewise the certificate of clearance attached to the said letter was not also included for deliberation in the JBC en banc when we considered the candidates for voting,” Peralta said.
Peralta said that had he known about the letter he would object against the selection of Sereno as Chief Justice because that is a clear deviation from the rules requiring all applicants to the position to submit their SALNs to the JBC.
“In this particular case, the Chief Justice was requesting for her inclusion from that requirement,” Peralta said.
De Castro, who also applied for the position of Chief Justice, said this was the first time she knew about the letter, saying the appointment of Sereno despite her failure to comply with the rules constitute an injustice to the other applicants.
“A great injustice was done to us—the other candidates or the other applicants—for the position of Chief Justice,” De Castro said.
She noted that the opening for the position of Chief Justice came about because Chief Justice Renato Corona was impeached for failure to include his dollar account in his SALN and so the JBC became strict with its requirements.
“What happened to this letter? Was this kept under wraps?” De Castro said.
Leyte Rep. Vicente Veloso opined that Serenos’ appointment is invalid from the start for her failure to comply with the JBC requirements.
“Lumalabas talaga ngayon that the appointment of Sereno was void from the beginning,” Veloso said. He added that it may not even be necessary to impeach Sereno to remove her from office.
Initially, the JBC required candidates for the position to submit all their SALNs but later trimmed the requirement for only 10 years from those who came from government service.
Atty. Annaliza Capacite, regular member of JBC, confirmed that four other senior SC members who applied for the seat vacated by Corona complied with the JBC requirement: Justice Antonio Carpio submitted 14 SALNs; Justice De Castro, 15; Justice Presbitero Velasco, Jr., 19; and Justice Arturo Brion, 10.
Another SC justice who applied for the post, Justice Roberto Abad submitted only his SALN for seven years because he left government service for almost a decade before he was appointed to the SC.
Capacite admitted that it was the JBC executive committee, composed of the regular members, that recommended to the council en banc some 20 candidates—including Sereno—to be considered for the then vacant post of Chief Justice.
She claimed that one of the JBC members, Sen. Francis Escudero, suggested that the rules on SALN be relaxed and that an “attempt to comply” could be considered substantial compliance.
However, De Castro said the JBC announcement for the post clearly indicates that submission of SALN for at least 10 years, from those coming from government service, is the minimum required for substantial compliance to the requirement.
Meanwhile, Peralta also accused Sereno of influencing the JBC to manipulate the selection process for candidates to judicial positions.
Peralta said while the JBC allowed Sereno to be considered for the post of Chief Justice, the council rejected his wife’s application for Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeals simply because of unvalidated NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) clearance and health examination documents.
“My wife from the very beginning, she was already excluded because of the manipulation your honor. I call it manipulation because the documents will show clearly that they manipulated the application of my wife so she would not be included in the short list for presiding justice,” Peralta said.
He said that while the JBC rejected her wife’s application even after she submitted the required documents, the council considered for the post other applicants from Sandiganbayan and the Court of Appeals by merely calling them.
“Is the Chief Justice responsible for what they did to my wife? Of course. To whom do the members of the JBC report to ? It is the Chief Justice, your honor,” said Peralta.