By Andrea Louise E. San Juan
THE CAMP of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes P.A. Sereno yesterday, Nov. 23, slammed complainant lawyer Lorenzo G. Gadon and most members of the House committee on justice for going in a “fishing expedition” in the impeachment case against the country’s top judge.
“It has always been our position that the people’s money should never fund a fishing expedition and unfortunately, this was what exactly happened in Wednesday’s hearing,” said lawyer Josalee S. Deinla, one of the spokespersons of Ms. Sereno.
Ms. Deinla noted that the hearing, which was the start of the committee’s determination of probable cause, was marked by several requests from Mr. Gadon to subpoena witnesses and documents.
“It was not right for the justice committee, chaired by Oriental Mindoro Representative Reynaldo V. Umali to allow Gadon ‘to put the cart before the horse and get away with it,’” she pointed out.
“Mr. Gadon’s resorting to fishing expedition, with the aid of some members of the committee, served to highlight one crucial fact — there is no solid evidence and sufficient grounds for impeachment against the Chief Justice,” she said.
In Wednesday’s hearing, Ako Bicol Representative Rodel M. Batocabe noticed Mr. Gadon’s failure to state specifically the years covered by his allegation pertaining to the Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) of Ms. Sereno.
“At first glance, with due respect to this committee, it seems that we are now on a fishing expedition because we do not have a definite year of SALN,” Mr. Batocabe said during the hearing.
On the other hand, Mr. Gadon, in the impeachment complaint that he filed, claimed that Ms. Sereno did not declare in her SALN her earnings from the time she was a lawyer for the government in its arbitration case against the Philippine International Air Terminals Co., Inc. (PIATCO).
He said that Ms. Sereno earned P37 million from the job, but her lawyers contested that it amounted to only P30.3 million.
Further, Ms. Sereno’s lawyers asserted that there could be no misdeclaration in the SALN since the legal fees she earned from the PIATCO case for the period 2003-2008 were received prior to her appointment to the Supreme Court in 2010.
Towards the end of the hearing, Quezon City Representative Jose Christopher Y. Belmonte hinted that Mr. Gadon seemed to be using the justice committee and the hearing to obtain the evidence necessary to back up his allegations.
“I’d really like to stress to my good friend (Gadon) and his counsel na ang trabaho po natin sa (that our work here in the) committee is to determine probable cause. Di ba ho? Ang nangyayari ho ay parang tayo po ang nagtatrabaho para sa kanya, para i-build ’yung ebidensyang kailangan niya (What seems to be happening here is we are working for him to build up the evidence that he needs),” Mr. Belmonte told the committee.
Ms. Sereno’s camp also said, “By insisting on the Chief Justice’s personal appearance at the hearings, complainant is not only calling for the violation of her constitutional right to counsel, he is moreover forgetting that she is not responsible for proving her innocence.”
The House committee voted 30-3 in favor of preventing non-members of committee, which includes Ms. Sereno’s lawyers, from speaking or participating in the hearings.
“The onus to prove the allegations still lies on complainant. On this we trust that he’ll miserably fail, judging by yesterday’s events — where he has started to get caught in his own web of lies and even perjured himself.”