MANILA - Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, who is facing impeachment proceedings, said she was ready to prove her innocence as she rejected allegations of lavish spending.
Sereno, the first woman to head the Supreme Court, said the impeachment was no longer about her, but about democracy in the Philippines.
"I am ready in any proceeding to prove my innocence," Sereno said in an interview aired Monday on ANC's Headstart.
"If they can do this to the Chief Justice—fabricate charges, gang up, some say—if they can do this to a Chief Justice and deny her her basic constitutional rights, who is safe in this country?" she said.
Sereno said the lawyer who sought her impeachment, Lorenzo Gadon, had not proven any impeachable offense, and it was "wrong" to place upon her the burden of disproving the allegations.
The House Committee on Justice has invited Sereno to its next hearing on the Gadon complaint on Wednesday.
Gadon's complaint cited Sereno's alleged extravagant lifestyle and non-disclosure of fees she received as government counsel for a high-profile case.
"If a Chief Justice who can only be accused of these allegations, which are even false, will be removed from office, is there any judge or justice who is safe?" she said.
"Is the judiciary safe? And if the judiciary is not safe, is democracy safe? Are the constitutional rights of people assured? Because the only way you can assure the rights of people is you have a virtuous and independent judiciary," she said.
Sereno said a circular from the Department of Budget and Management "expressly authorized" the purchase of a vehicle with high-engine displacement to allow for bullet-proofing.
The Chief Justice said the Toyota Land Cruiser she was using was the "most frugal" choice.
"Twenty-seven judges have already been assassinated since 1999. If you look at the security situation I am facing, it is not unreasonable to use the expressed DBM circular to say that this is the security protocol indicated by the DBM itself, that a Chief Justice should have sufficient protection," she said.
Aside from the Land Cruiser, Gadon also cited Sereno's travel expenses.
Sereno said the human resource manual of the court indicates that the Chief Justice is entitled to travel on business class.
"You go to a conference you have to fully prepare. I make some of my speeches on the plane...I need to prepare for all of these, even while I am monitoring all the work at home," she said.
"It’s allowed. So how can something that's completely legal constitute as an impeachable offense?" she said.
Gadon also accused Sereno of culpable violation of the Constitution when she falsified Supreme Court resolutions, including one in 2012 which revived the regional court administration office in Central Visayas.
Sereno said Gadon was not with the en banc when they were discussing the 4 resolutions he is assailing in his complaint, and he could not have made the accusation based on personal knowledge.
"You cannot falsify a resolution because resolutions come only from the notes of Chief Justice. So, if the notes of a Chief Justice is like that, it reflects that agreement or that consensus or that sense, then it comes out as a resolution. How can I fake my own minutes?" she said.
The en banc can question her notes, but Sereno said "it's not falsifying at all."
"If you can look at it this way how can the RCAO move be a wrong move if there is already GAA [General Appropriation Act] items and equipment authorized to be bought for it?" she said.