MANILA - Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno has no monopoly over the powers of Supreme Court, her colleague Associate Justice Noel Tijam said Monday as he testified in the impeachment proceedings against her.
"The Supreme Court is a collegial, it is a consultative, deliberative, participatory body. The Chief Justice is not the Supreme Court," Tijam told the House justice panel which leads the hearing.
"In other words, unlike the chief of a tribe in a community, the chief of a conglomerate, the chief of a group of companies, the Chief Justice cannot overrule, supersede or cancel the decision of the en banc... The Chief Justice does not have absolute powers."
Tijam appeared at the hearing to testify on the allegation that Sereno delayed the request of Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II to transfer the trial of Maute gunmen to Luzon or Visayas.
He said Aguirre's request, dated May 29, was not tackled during the high court's en banc session on June 6, but during Sereno's lunch with magistrates on the same day.
Tijam said he and some other members of the tribunal were not present during the lunch, which he only learned of in a phone call with Sereno.
"There is a distinct difference between discussing something important during the en banc session, where you have the docket folders, the materials with you and holding a caucus on an important matter where in front of you are plates, forks and food," he remarked.
The court did not grant Aguirre's request and instead moved the venue to Cagayan de Oro City.
Aguirre, in 4 follow-up letters, asked the court to reconsider its decision and move the trial to the regional trial court of Taguig for the safety of the prosecutors and judges.
To back his request, he submitted the statements of at least 3 prosecutors, a resolution of the Integrated Bar of The Philippines-Misamis Oriental, and the local government -- all of whom protested holding the trial in Cagayan de Oro, Tijam said.
Tijam, who admitted that Aguirre was his close friend for 40 years, said he does not remember seeing the documents that would have allowed the en banc to "have a complete understanding" of the situation.
He said he issued a memorandum to the en banc members to expedite the resolution on Aguirre's request, which they eventually granted on August 8 or 2 months after it was filed.
"It is important for the en banc to consider matters of urgency and you can only consider these matters if the en banc is given full information, immediate information, complete information," TIham said.
"I am of the thought that probably the reason why the CJ did not act on it [was] because she was not satisfied that the danger, the risk and the harm that may befall of the non-transfer of the Maute prisoners to Metro Manila would be that large or extensive. Regardless of the thoughts, regardless of the sentiments, regardless of the feeling of the Chief Justice, she should have taken the initiative of bringing it to the attention of the en banc."
The House justice panel is determining whether there is probable cause to impeach Sereno for allegedly bypassing her colleagues, misdeclaring her wealth, and having an extravagant lifestyle.
She has denied the allegations and refused to attend the proceedings.