Palace: Duterte hands off on impeach bids vs Sereno

Dharel Placido. ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 03 2017 02:10 PM | Updated as of Aug 31 2017 11:16 AM

MANILA - Malacañang on Thursday said it would let impeachment complaints against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno run their course at the House of Representatives.

Presidential Communications Assistant Secretary Ana Marie Banaag said President Rodrigo Duterte had no hand in the filing of two impeachment complaints against Sereno, even if those who filed were his allies.

“Hindi kontrolado ng Presidente kung may kaalyado man siya na may gustong mag-file ng complaint against any impeachable officer. That is not necessarily galing sa ating Pangulo,” Banaag said in a news conference.

Banaag added that it was better for the executive branch to refrain from commenting on the impeachment process as it is the business of the legislature.

“The President respects the separation of powers of each of the agencies. If the House of Representatives will endorse, that is up to them,” she said.

“We respect if any civilian would file a complaint against any impeachable officer,” she added.

In a complaint filed before the House of Representatives, the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) and Vanguard of the Philippine Constitution (VCPI) accused Sereno of releasing administrative orders without the approval of the Supreme Court en banc.

These include the creation of a new decentralized office of the judiciary and the re-opening of the Regional Court Administrative Office in Western Visayas, according to the complaint.

The two groups also accused 57-year-old Sereno of approving the allegedly irregular appointment of several officials, and using Supreme Court funds for travel allowances of her staff.

Sereno also allegedly failed to fill the year-long vacancies for a deputy clerk of court, a chief attorney and 2 assistant court administrators, the complainants said.

The VACC's founding chairman, Dante Jimenez, is a staunch supporter of the President.

The Chief Justice has not received a copy of the complaint, Supreme Court spokesman Theodore Te said.

VACC’s impeachment complaint has been lodged at the Secretary General’s office even if no member of the House of Representatives endorsed it.

Another complaint, lawyer Lorenzo Gadon, alleges that Sereno failed to truthfully disclose her statement of assets, liabilities, and net worth (SALN)—the same allegation that got her predecessor, the late Chief Justice Renato Corona, ousted from office.

Gadon, once a member of former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s legal team and convenor of Duterte supporters' group PDU30 CoRe (Constitutional Reformers) to Federalism, said he would wait for House members to endorse his complaint before he files it.

In his complaint, Gadon accused Sereno of alleged falsification of Supreme Court documents; delayed action on the petitions for retirement benefits of justices, judges and the surviving spouses of deceased justices and judges; alleged manipulation and delay in the resolution of the request of the Secretary of Justice to transfer the Maute cases outside of Mindanao; and alleged manipulation of the shortlist of the Judicial and Bar Council, among others. 

Gadon also accused Sereno of corruption over the alleged use of public funds in ordering the purchase of a new vehicle amounting to more than P5 million; alleged use of public funds to stay in hotels when attending local and foreign conferences; flying on business or first class with her staff and security; and bringing a huge entourage of lawyers in her official foreign trips.

Among the incidents he cited were alleged obstruction of justice by purportedly ordering Muntinlupa judges not to issue warrants of arrest against Sen. Leila De Lima, who is now detained on drug charges; alleged failure to report her attorney’s fees and to pay the appropriate taxes; and the alleged embellishment of her personal data sheet.

Appointed by former President Benigno Aquino III in 2012, Sereno is expected to serve as Chief Justice until 2030, outlasting the terms of several presidents. 

Duterte and his allies have several times hit Sereno, most recently House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, who last month threatened to seek her impeachment over a conflict between the House of Representatives and the Court of Appeals (CA) on the detention of Ilocos Norte officials invited as witnesses in a legislative inquiry in May. 

Alvarez had said he was looking into reports that Sereno ordered appellate court magistrates to defy the House show cause order that countered the CA's order to release the provincial officials. 

The six officials, held for initially refusing to speak up at the House inquiry into Ilocos Norte's questioned use of P66.45 million in tobacco excise funds, were released last week after they finally spoke up. 

Duterte had also criticized Sereno early in his term, particularly on her statement cautioning citizens against warrantless arrests.