MANILA - Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II on Tuesday faced the House justice committee as it resumed its hearing on the impeachment complaint against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.
Lawyer Lorenzo Gadon had alleged, among others, that Sereno manipulated and delayed Aguirre's request to transfer the cases against Maute gunmen outside of Mindanao for security reasons.
"If the dates I mentioned [are] correct, the request was finally granted after the lapse of 50 days on my part. The computation of Atty. Gadon, 52 days after I first requested the same on May 29, 2017," Aguirre told lawmakers.
Aguirre testified that he wrote a letter to Sereno in May 29, days after martial law was declared in Mindanao following Islamic State-inspired extremists' hoisting of the terror network's black flag and setting fire to some parts of Marawi City, requesting the transfer the trial of Maute suspects to Luzon or Visayas but the SC instead moved the venue to Cagayan de Oro City.
On June 13, he moved for reconsideration of the SC decision for the safety of the members of judiciary who will conduct inquest proceedings, preliminary investigation and trial of the cases against the suspected terrorists.
He also cited in his letter that the military camp in Cagayan de Oro may have proper facilities for detaining the suspects.
In a follow-up letter the following day, Aguirre said he specifically asked that the regional trial court in Taguig City be the one to try these cases.
In a meeting with Sereno, Aguirre said he was told by the top magistrate to "tone down" his request letter and to shift the focus to how the transfer would free the military base in Cagayan de Oro and the soldiers therein to fight the extremists in the southern region.
He heeded this advice from Sereno in a letter on June 19, he said.
Aguirre said he then wrote again to the high court on July 3, reiterating his request and attaching a resolution by the Misamis Oriental Sangguniang Bayan stating their opposition to having the cases tried in Cagayan de Oro as it would disrupt their peace.
Instead of being included in the en banc agenda for June 20, Aguirre said his request "was delayed by another week" because the Chief Justice was absent.
It was then scheduled to be tackled on June 27.
Aguirre said he received information on that day that his request was granted, but it was not immediately released. The decision was released on July 18, and according to Gadon's complaint, it was only circulated on July 20.
Justice Committee Chairman Reynaldo Umali asked Aguirre to furnish the panel with copies of his letter, and the justice chief agreed.
Umali also said Supreme Court personnel and justices, such as Associate Justice Noel Tijam and Spokesperson Theodore Te could be made to explain how administrative matters such as this is being handled by the high tribunal.
SC EN BANC DECIDED ON AGUIRRE PLEA
The camp of Sereno, however, noted in their commentary on the hearing that it was the Supreme Court en banc which resolved the requests of Aguirre, not just the chief justice.
They also insisted that the accusation of "intentional delay" was "baseless."
They noted that the Supreme Court acted on Aguirre's initial request that the Maute and related cases be transferred to Taguig City within 8 days.
Aguirre's request for reconsideration was also discussed 14 days later, on June 27, "amidst oral arguments and the Supreme Court’s urgent work on the petitions questioning President Duterte’s declaration of martial law."
Fourteen days later, on July 18, the Supreme Court released its resolution granting Aguirre’s request for reconsideration, they said.