MANILA - Allegations that Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno had acted without the knowledge of the Supreme Court en banc can be an impeachable offense if it reveals a pattern of violating the tribunal's collegial nature, a law dean said Thursday.
Although a chief justice merely presides over the 15-member body and is not the judiciary herself, Sereno's supposedly unilateral order designating an administrator to the regional court office would not rise to the level of an impeachable offense, said Fr. Ranhilio Aquino, dean of the San Beda Graduate School of Law.
"If the only thing you’re judging her with is violating the collegial nature of the Court, I personally do not think that it would rise to the level of an impeachable offense. But if the prosecution can establish a pattern by way she violated the collegial nature of the Court, ibang usapin yan," he told radio DZMM.
Lawyer Lorenzo Gadon, in his impeachment complaint, accused Sereno of culpable violation of the Constitution when she allegedly falsified Supreme Court resolutions, including an administrative order that sought to revive the Regional Court Administration Office in Central Visayas.
Associate Justice Teresita De Castro on Wednesday told the House justice committee during its hearing that the top magistrate's administrative order in 2012 "did not conform" with the en banc decision in 2006.
De Castro said the en banc resolution created the RCAO in Central Visayas, but Sereno's administrative order created the Judiciary Decentralized Office for the same region.
The House committee on Wednesday also tackled Sereno's alleged tampering with De Castro's recommended temporary restraining order in 2013.
Aquino noted that Sereno's camp insisted that issuing a TRO is within her power's office, adding that similarly, any justice of the high court can issue a writ of amparo.
He added, if Sereno had overstepped her boundaries in supposedly altering De Castro's ponencia, the top magistrate should instead be disciplined by the Court itself.
"Kung yun lang, sinobrahan niya yung kaniyang poder, puwedeng disiplinahin ng Supreme Court, but it will not rise to the level of an impeachable offense. Kung yun lang," he said.
However, things may change if the prosecution could prove that this is part of a "pattern of disregarding the collegial nature of the court" as this could rise to the level of an impeachable offense.
CORONA IMPEACHMENT SET A PRECEDENT
Aquino said the provisions in Article 11 of the Constitutions which enumerates the grounds for impeachment against an official "used to be very high," but when lawmakers impeached former Chief Justice Renato Corona, it seems possible that "any offense can become a culpable violation of the Constitution."
"That is the effect of that Corona impeachment trial, parang binaba niya yung standards ng impeachment ng isang impeachable official," he said.
In 2011, 188 congressmen impeached Corona for misdeclaration in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth. Corona was convicted by the Senate after then-prosecutor Rey Umali, now chair of the Justice Committee, received documents on Corona's bank records allegedly from a mysterious "small lady" at the Senate premises.
"Inumpisahan na natin na alisin ang isang impeachable official for such a thing as a misstated SALN. That makes the grounds for impeachment very ambiguous because now, such an act as acting contrary to the Constitution can be taken as a culpable violation of the Constitution," he said.
Gadon also alleged in his complaint that Sereno failed to declare this in her 2010 SALN the P30-million payment she received when she represented the government against the the Philippine International Air Terminals Co. Inc. (Piatco), builder of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3.
Sereno had denied this, saying the amount did not appear in her 2010 SALN because she received the payment in tranches over the course of 5 years.