MANILA - Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno's failure to submit all of her statement of assets, liabilities, and net worth to the Judicial and Bar Council is a matter of integrity, which is required by the Constitution from any member of the judiciary, a lawmaker said Friday.
Leyte Rep. Vicente Veloso said the law requires government officials to "be of proven competence, integrity, probity and independence" even if candidates for the Chief Justice meet all the constitutional requirements.
"On the matter of integrity comes the question of SALN. It is mandated by the Constitution and the Anti-Graft Practices Act," he told ANC's Early Edition.
Jojo Lacanilao, Sereno's spokesperson in the impeachment complaint, said the top magistrate's supposed failure to submit all 10 SALNs to the Judicial and Bar Council when the body screened her for the chief justice post is "an interesting issue to be discussed in the Senate."
He also maintained that Sereno should be given her day in the Senate to face the allegations against her.
"Even if it’s an integrity issue, ang position namin is it still must be within the impeachment process. Hindi mo lang pwedeng dalhin yun sa quo warranto sa Supreme Court kasi andun yung Constitution," he said in the same interview.
"Anything that will involve the removal of an impeachable official, ang Constitution ang sabi ay kailangang impeachment process," he added.
Veloso said it was established in the House panel hearings that Sereno submitted only 1 legitimate SALN and that she had an "intent to fraudulently mislead" the JBC by writing to them in July 2012 that it was "not feasible" for her to submit all of the SALNs required because "15 years have passed and it's difficult for her to retrieve all her SALNs."
"It misled the JBC into believing that substantial compliance would be enough and 4 SALNs would be substantial compliance--only to find out that of the 4 SALNs, 3 were not under oath," he said.
Lacanilao said, however, that they will contest this "finding" of the committee because it does not mean that if UP did not have records of Sereno's SALN, she did not file those.
"You cannot jump to that conclusion kasi may mga gaps yun. We're saying that's an interesting question. We dispute everything they say they have found," he said.
"We will say that she did not violate any rules. I don't want to go into details because I don't want to preempt our defense," he added.
Sereno is accused of misdeclaring her wealth, violating court rules and abusing her privileges as chief justice which amount to culpable violation of the Constitution, betrayal of public trust, and other high crimes including under impeachment rules.
The House justice committee on Thursday ruled that there was enough grounds to impeach Sereno and will now draft articles of impeachment against her, which will be submitted to the plenary for approval.
Leaders of the chamber said, however, they will defer voting on this in the plenary as they await the Supreme Court's decision on the petitions questioning Sereno's qualifications.
Solicitor General Jose Calida filed the quo warranto, arguing that Sereno was "unlawfully holding" her post due to her alleged failure to fully disclose her wealth as required by the JBC. The petition also accused the chief justice of "usurpation of a public office."
The Supreme Court has asked Sereno to comment on the petition.