MANILA - Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno did not say she would take care of matters if the Court of Appeals justices seek the help of the Supreme Court in connection with the Ilocos 6 case, her colleague told lawmakers on Monday.
Justice Andres Reyes, Jr., formerly the presiding justice of the appellate court, denied Sereno said “Akong bahala” when she advised 3 CA justices to file a temporary restraining order after the House of Representatives issued a show-cause order against them.
Reyes told the House Committee on Justice that the Chief Justice’s exact words were: “If they would like, they may file a petition for prohibition with the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court na ang bahala doon.”
CA Justice Remedios Salazar-Fernando told the panel last week that Reyes, in a meeting among the justices in June 2017, recalled that Sereno "advised the 3 justices to apply for a temporary restraining order (TRO) in SC at siya na daw ang bahala.”
She later clarified that Sereno's supposed exact words were: “Akong bahala.”
CA Justices Stephen Cruz, Edwin Sorongon and Nina Antonio-Valenzuela were the subject of a show cause order by a House committee after they ordered the release of 6 Ilocos Norte officials detained in the House for refusing to participate in an investigation into allegations of misuse of tobacco funds in Ilocos Norte.
Reyes said that he took Sereno's statement to mean the Supreme Court will handle the case in due course.
“I did not at that time believe the SC will help. I also did not believe SC will not help. I think it was a neutral statement,” he said.
He added that there could have been a “confusion” in the dual function of the Chief Justice as a magistrate and as head of the judiciary. “She has to manage the court and at the same time, she has to decide cases. There is a different standard,” he said.
But Reyes clarified he understood the Chief Justice’s concern for the CA justices as “mother” of the judiciary.
House Justice Committee Chair Reynaldo Umali pointed out that Reyes’s confirmation of an advice to file a “petition for prohibition” is contrary to Chief Justice Sereno’s statement in her verified answer, where she merely referred to “legal remedies.”
Cebu Rep. Gwen Garcia took issue with the advice as judges and justices are supposedly prevented from making any comments on any pending case or a case which might come before their courts.
Reyes pointed out that the question might be of importance if there was a court case filed by the three CA justices and the Chief Justice participated in it. “But since she did not participate, there is no clear-cut statement if there’s a violation of the canons,” he explained.
The CA justices eventually did not file any case before the SC and the Chief Justice, along with Reyes and Justice Diosdado Peralta also inhibited from a petition which Ilocos Norte Governor Imee Marcos and 6 local officials filed before the SC.