SC justices decry 'manipulation, injustice' of Sereno inclusion in JBC list

MANILA, Philippines – Supreme Court (SC) associate justices once again brought up the alleged anomalies in the inclusion of Maria Lourdes Sereno in the shortlist for Chief Justice in 2012, as the House continued hearing on Monday, February 12, the impeachment complaint against her. 

“If they allowed [Sereno] to be voted [as] chief justice, why did they not allow my wife?” said associate justice Diosdado Peralta, who presided over the search for the next chief justice back in 2012.

Peralta, among the more senior members of the High Court then and now, was referring to Sereno’s apparent failure to submit at least 10 of her Statements of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN) in her application for the highest judicial post.

Knowledge of the missing SALNs was made public in the course of the committee’s hearing on an impeachment case filed by lawyer Larry Gadon against Sereno. (READ: Justice De Castro: Did Sereno ‘deceive’ JBC?)

Peralta said his wife, Court of Appeals justice Fernanda Lampas-Peralta, had her application for the post of presiding justice rejected because she had submitted several requirements late. (READ: Sereno impeachment: Cracks in the Supreme Court)

In contrast, a fuming Peralta pointed out, Sereno was included in the shortlist even if she failed to submit SALNs, document that are required of all government officials.

“If they allowed the Chief Justice to be voted as chief justice, why did they not allow my wife?” said Peralta, noting that his wife’s case was “worse” than that of Associate Justice Francis Jardeleza, whose inclusion in the JBC shortlist was apparently blocked by Sereno.

"My wife’s case is even worse than Jardeleza…. My wife, from the very beginning, was excluded from the manipulation.... I say manipulation, because the documents show clearly that they manipulated the application of my wife so that she would not be considered," he added. 

The SC justice said, had he known about Sereno's missing SALNs, he would have voted against Sereno. (READ: Malacañang's visible hand in CJ search)

Peralta, who declined to be a contender for chief justice in 2012, did not vote for Sereno to be included in the shortlist. He voted for the inclusion of other justices who applied for the Chief Justice post. (READ: The year of impeachments: 'Bastardization' or checks and balances?)

SALN issues and beyond

Sereno’s allegedly failure to declare certain assets in her SALN is among the complaints of Gadon in the impeachment complaint.

But the committee has since expanded discussions to question why Sereno did not submit her  SALNs, which covered the period where she was a teacher at the University of the Philippines, a public school.

Another SC associate justice, Teresita Leonardo de Castro, said a “great injustice” was done to her and other justices and individuals who were vying for the Chief Justice post. (READ: Justices on Sereno 'transgressions': Until when will we suffer?)

“She should not have been interviewed, she should have been excluded,” said De Castro, who had previously lamented Sereno’s apparent tendency to make decisions on her own without consulting the SC en banc.

Annaliza Ty Capacite, executive director of the JBC, explained that the council then decided that the “attempt” to comply with the requirements was enough for applicants.

Then JBC member representing the Senate, Senator Francis Escudero, made that manifestation, according to Capacite. The JBC executive committee was tasked to determine what constituted “substantial compliance.”

Capacite noted the council became stricter about requirements in 2016, when it decided to lengthen application periods.

Peralta continued to lament the “injustice” in Sereno’s inclusion in the JBC shortlist even hours after the hearing began.

Acting like Pilate?

In a statement, Sereno’s spokesman lawyer Jojo Lacanilao insisted the Chief Justice complied with the requirements of the JBC. He explained that Sereno only submitted 3 SALNs – covering the years 2009 to 2011 – because she was in private practice before this.

Lacanilao said Peralta was acting like “Pontius Pilate” in claiming he did not know about the issues surrounding Sereno’s SALN.

“It is clear to us that Justice Peralta wants to wash his hands clean of how Chief Justice Sereno was included in the JBC shortlist and he knows it,” said Sereno’s spokesperson.

Lacanilao accused Peralta of having “an axe to grind” against Sereno for his wife’s exclusion from the shortlist for the post of CA presiding justice. Sereno, as Chief Justice, is ex-officio chair of the JBC.

“Justice Peralta should have some delicadeza in not allowing personal disappointments to color his testimonies before the justice committee,” said Lacanilao.

Peralta addressed this allegation during the hearing, saying he was doing this not for his wife, but for everyone else who wanted a chance to serve in the judiciary.

The JBC screens applicants for top posts in the judiciary, from the trial courts up to the Supreme Court. (READ: At Sereno impeachment hearing, Fariñas brings up flaws in JBC)  Rappler.com