CHIEF JUSTICE Maria Lourdes P. A. Sereno is not discounting the possibility that her testimony against House Speaker Pantaleon D. Alvarez in relation to the epic case of the Philippine International Air Terminals Co. (PIATCO) could have prompted the filing of an impeachment complaint against her.
Mr. Alvarez, on the other hand, says Ms. Sereno is simply veering away from the impeachment issues.
“I hope everybody involved rises to the requirements of the Constitution that this (impeachment) should not be done for personal vengeance or for personal agenda, but this is only a mechanism for accountability,” Ms. Sereno said in an interview over ABS-CBN News Channel (ANC).
The country’s top magistrate was responding to a question on whether she believed that Mr. Alvarez had a hand in the impeachment complaint as a way of hitting back at her over the PIATCO case, where Ms. Sereno was part of a team of private lawyers hired to represent the government.
“I testified against the onerous terms of the contract that was signed between the government and PairCargo (later named PIATCO), and Speaker Alvarez at the time was part of the committee that approved the terms of reference for the contract,” Ms. Sereno said.
Mr. Alvarez was senior assistant general manager of the Manila International Airport Administration (MIAA) when PIATCO was awarded the build-operate-transfer contract for the Ninoy Aquino International Airport International Passenger Terminal 3 (NAIA-3).
In 2001, a plunder case was filed against Mr. Alvarez and other officials by the MIAA-NAIA Association of Service Contractors for alleged financial gain from the contract.
According to earlier reports, Mr. Alvarez’s wife, Emelita A. Alvarez, owned 33% of Wintrack Builders, Inc., a company that supposedly profited from an excess $1.64 million from excavation work it did with PIATCO.
Ms. Sereno pointed out: “Speaker Alvarez had a lot to do with the result of that bidding, and one of the cases in fact that was filed against him was precisely for the conflict of interest situation that he finds himself in. A company that his wife owned was the subcontractor for the construction [of NAIA-3].”
“While the testimony I gave in the Sandiganbayan assails that contract, the overall participation that I had touched also on the participation of Speaker Alvarez. Maybe not in the particular testimony in the Sandiganbayan, but in other parts of the defense of the Republic as well,” she added.
Asked if her testifying against Mr. Alvarez could be one of the reasons why he was pushing for her impeachment, Ms. Sereno replied: “This is a matter that my lawyers are still considering.”
“Whether it should be raised, and at which point it should be raised, I will have to listen to the lawyers whether that will be brought up,” she added.
Meanwhile, in an interview with reporters after the 81st Anniversary of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) yesterday, Mr. Alvarez said Ms. Sereno has been making a lot of public statements over the impeachment case when she should just face the complaint.
“Now are you on the basis of merits?” he said.
The House leader also said the committee that will assess the complaint will definitely push through with the hearings whether or not Ms. Sereno appears.
“Didinggin namin yung kaso, yung reklamo, yung mga ebidensya, pakikinggan namin yung mga accusers niya, yung mga witnesses, at magdedesisyon kami kung dadalhin namin ’yan sa (We will hear the case, the complaint, the evidences, we will listen to the accusers, witnesses and we will decide whether to elevate it to the) impeachment court,” he added.
Mr. Alvarez also stressed that Ms. Sereno herself must face the committee.
Sought for comment, Ms. Sereno’s spokesperson, lawyer Josalee S. Deinla, said, “We’d like to remind the Speaker that it was not CJ (Sereno) or anyone from our camp who claimed that he was behind the impeachment proceedings.”
“We do not speculate or ascribe any political agenda to whomever as our focus is on the merits of the case,” Ms. Deinla said.
Ms. Deinla further explained that it is wrong to assume that Ms. Sereno does not want to attend the hearings.
“She does — except that she intends to do so through counsel. The reason for this is her sincere desire to faithfully fulfill the immense duties of her office without distractions. No less than the Constitution as well guarantees her right to counsel,” she added.
Ms. Deinla pointed out: “The Chief Justice has nothing to fear and nothing to hide. But contrary to the Speaker’s suggestion, this cannot be demonstrated simply by showing up.”
“A fair and judicious proceeding that curtails no rights is the only way by which the Chief Justice can effectively defend herself,” she added. — Andrea Louise E. San Juan