MANILA - The head of the House justice committee denied Thursday that he is coordinating with Supreme Court magistrates to pressure Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno to quit her post.
Speaking to ANC's Early Edition, Oriental Mindoro Rep. Rey Umali clarified that he did not seek out the SC justices who had tipped him off that Sereno was about to take an indefinite leave.
Instead, he said it was the SC justices who were reacting to the news from Sereno's spokesperson that the Chief Justice was taking a "wellness leave."
"I have personal relationships with them...I did not seek them out. They reacted because that was fake news," he said while refusing to say how many SC justices had contacted him.
Asked if some of the justices that tipped him off were also resource persons during the justice panel hearing, he said: "Probably."
He added that he only called for Sereno's resignation because there are clear divisions in the Supreme Court.
"You have in the Supreme Court now majority of justices who said very, very unkind words of her as the Chief Justice and the leader of the judiciary. It's all about leadership. How can you lead an institution, [one] branch of government and a dysfunctional branch at that, when you have majority of your members hating your guts or not liking how you handle the court? How can you face them again after characterizing you as inhuman, mentally dishonest...That is a call for practicality," he said.
Sereno is facing impeachment proceedings at the House of Representatives after lawyer Lorenzo Gadon accused her of culpable violation of the Constitution, betrayal of public trust, and other high crimes.
Several SC magistrates have testified in the justice panel hearings on the impeachment complaint, including Associate Justices Teresita de Castro, Samuel Martires, Mariano del Castillo, Andres Reyes, Lucas Bersamin and Diosdado Peralta.
IMPEACHMENT A GO
During the interview, Umali said he believes Sereno will be impeached by the Lower House after the latter failed to appear personally before the panel's hearings and rebut the impeachment allegations.
The justice panel earlier voted against allowing Sereno's lawyers to appear before the hearings.
"She has not attended any of the hearings. She has not rebutted except through the media but that was not the proper forum. Us members of the committee on justice would have nothing to base on any finding that would go against what has been established through our hearings," he said in an interview on ANC.
"She should have rebutted all that was said against her by the many witnesses or resource persons that were called in but she did not. She chose not to," he added.
He said Sereno's answers to the impeachment complaint of Atty. Larry Gadon, which were sent by her lawyers, were "half-truths", "misleading and to a certain extent deceptive."
SERENO'S LAND CRUISER
He said the strongest cases they have against the top magistrate are her failure to submit her statements of assets, liabilities, and net worth to the Judicial and Bar Council, and her psychiatric qualifications.
A JBC officer earlier said Sereno sent the council a letter saying she cannot locate some of her SALNs when she was still a professor at the University of the Philippines.
This prompted two of her colleagues in the Supreme Court, associate justices Diosdado Peralta and Teresita Leonardo-De Castro, to say that Sereno does not deserve to be in her current position.
Peralta, who had presided over the JBC's search for the next chief justice, said he only knew of the letter during the House hearings, while De Castro, who also applied for the judiciary's top post, stressed all applicants save Sereno submitted their SALN's.
Meanwhile, Dr. Geraldine Tria, a clinical psychologist who made a follow-up on Sereno's psychiatric tests said the Chief Justice has 5 of 9 signs of "mental disturbance": Grandiosity, sense of unlimited power and entitlement, exploitative to others, and lack of empathy.
Umali said Sereno's choice for a Land Cruiser as service vehicle, which is included in the impeachment complaint, shows "grandiosity" on the part of the Chief Justice. He stressed the standard of a vehicle for previous top magistrates is a Camry or a Starex Van.
He admitted that while some lawmakers have even better and more expensive vehicles, these vehicles were not bought using public funds.