MANILA - A lawmaker believes Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno's supposed delay in granting survivorship claims of families of late justices, if done deliberately, constitutes criminal offense and a culpable violation of the Constitution.
Leyte Representative Vicente Veloso, senior vice chair of the House Committee on Justice, said he was "very much convinced" by Court Administrator Midas Marquez's testimony about the "delay in giving valid claims" to the family of deceased members of the judiciary.
"That constitutes a criminal offense under Article 365 of the Revised Penal Code. That’s also a ground for removal from office under Section 3-E of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act," he told ANC's Early Edition.
"What concerns us here now is only the administrative aspect of it, the dismissal aspect of it. We’re not into the criminal aspect of it, but if that constitutes a criminal offense, how then could it not be a culpable violation of the Constitution?" he said.
Siquijor Representative Ramon Rocamora, member of the justice committee, however said it was the technical working group that caused the delays in the survivorship claims.
He noted that to prove Sereno's culpable violation of the Constitution, it must be established that she "caused the creation of this committee and the subsequent TWGs willfully, intentionally, and deliberately to cause delay of the benefits of the surviving spouses."
"Did she actually cause the creation of this committee and these TWGs, considering that the creation of the committee was also concurred in by 2 senior justices and the creation of the TWGs were upon the recommendation of the special committee?" he said in the interview.
"Why single her out when in fact she does not have the sole prerogative to grant or deny the privileges? It has to go through the recommendation of the TWGs, the recommendation of the special committee, and the Supreme Court en banc," he added.
Lawyer Lorenzo Gadon is accusing Sereno of culpable violation of the Constitution for "delaying actions" on petitions for retirement benefits of Supreme Court justices and judges and their surviving spouses.
Marquez on Tuesday told lawmakers finding probable cause in the impeachment complaint that a technical working group the top magistrate created did not act for 2 years on the applications for survivorship claims of families of late justices.
He said in 2015, Sereno and 2 other judges created the panel under the "Special Committee on Retirement and Civil Service Benefits" after a Supreme Court opinion that the pension should not apply to survivors of judges who died before a law signed by former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was enacted in 2010.
Before the TWG was created, the Office of the Supreme Court Administrator only took 2 to 3 weeks to process benefit applications, he said.
Marquez added that he wrote to Sereno in January 2017 to expedite 29 applications, but "nothing happened there, there was no reply."