CA justice testifies Sereno asked CA to defy House

RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 23 2018 04:02 PM | Updated as of Jan 23 2018 04:28 PM

Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno attends the "Women and Justice Forum" at the St. Scholastica's Institute for Women's Studies in Manila, December 7, 2017. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA (UPDATE) - A Court of Appeals (CA) associate justice on Tuesday said Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno's supposed instructions to justices of the appellate court over the "Ilocos 6" case were improper and "lacking of delicadeza."

During the resumption of the impeachment hearing at the House of Representatives, CA Associate Justice Remedios Salazar Fernando recalled how then CA Presiding Justice Andres Reyes called for a series of meetings over the case of 6 Ilocos Norte provincial government employees.

The 6 provincial government employees were detained by the House for nearly 2 months in 2017 for purportedly refusing to cooperate in its hearing on the alleged misuse of P66.45 million in tobacco excise tax funds.

Impeachment complainant Lorenzo Gadon earlier accused Sereno of betraying public trust for issuing a joint statement on the case with Reyes. 

Sereno's lawyers, however, said the Chief Justice's actions do not constitute betrayal of public trust.

The first meeting, Fernando recalled, occurred on June 21, 2017 where Reyes informed them that he had met Sereno who assured that "the SC (Supreme Court) will protect the CA."

Fernando recalled how Reyes shared with them his conversations with Sereno, who allegedly "advised the 3 justices to file a petition before the SC, with a TRO (temporary restraining order) and siya na daw ang bahala and everybody was silent about it.”

The 3 justices Fernando referred to were Stephen Cruz, Edwin Sorongon and Nina Antonio-Valenzuela, who were handling the case.

Another meeting was called for on June 22 where Reyes said he already signed a joint statement with the Chief Justice regarding the case and that there will be a Mass and lunch with Sereno the following day, June 23. 

The 3 justices, however, were excluded from the lunch upon Sereno’s orders as “there might be [a] case filed before the SC and the CJ (Chief Justice) might be asked to inhibit."

Quezon City Rep. Vincent Crisologo pointed out Sereno's actions as an intervention.

AKO Bicol Rep. Alfredo Garbin said the supposed incident supports Gadon’s allegation that Sereno instructed the justices to disobey House orders.

House Justice Committee Chair Rey Umali conceded that Fernando's statements are hearsay for now but that he expects Justice Andres Reyes to corroborate the statements when he faces the committee on Monday.

SERENO CAMP SAYS TESTIMONY NOT TRUE

In a statement, Sereno's spokesperson Jojo Lacanilao denied that that the chief magistrate had advised the 3 appellate court justices that she would "take care" of the supposed application for a TRO.

"The Chief Justice categorically denies that she told Justice Andres Reyes, Jr. to tell the three Court of Appeals Justices—Stephen Cruz, Edwin Sorongon and Nina Valenzuela—who were subject of the show cause order issued by the House of Representatives to file with the Supreme Court a petition for prohibition with application for TRO and that she would allegedly take care of it (“siya na raw ang bahala”)," Lacanilao said.

Lacanilao added that Sereno only discussed the contents of her joint statement with Reyes during their meeting.

"...[T]he only discussion between her and Justice Reyes were the contents of a Joint Statement to the House of Representatives asking for a reconsideration of the show cause order in order to protect judicial independence," he said.

"The Chief Justice did not advise Justice Reyes what particular legal remedy or petition the three CA Justices should take. Neither did she assure Justice Reyes of a favorable outcome on such a petition by telling him that she would take care of that petition in the Supreme Court," he added.