ASSOCIATE JUSTICE Noel G. Tijam yesterday denied that he was the Supreme Court member-in-charge of the petition involving the transfer of the Maute cases outside Mindanao, but he did say that Chief Justice Maria Lourdes P.A. Sereno failed to act promptly on the request.
Reading from his sworn affidavit, Mr. Tijam laid out the timeline of the events concerning Administrative Matter (AM) No. 17-06-02-SC, or the letter of Justice secretary Vitaliano N. Aguirre II, dated May 29, which sought the creation of a special court outside Mindanao to hear and decide on the cases related to the Maute Group, which led the siege on Marawi City on May 23.
Mr. Tijam, testifying during the resumption of the House committee on justice’s hearings on the impeachment complaint against Ms. Sereno, pointed out that the request was not acted upon until two months later, in Aug. 8, after the Office of the Court Administration issued two memoranda recommending the designation of Branches 70 and 266 of the Taguig City Regional Trial Court and Branches 74 and 116 of the Metropolitan Trial Court of Taguig City as special courts.
Mr. Tijam said he acted more promptly than the chief justice by circulating a memorandum, dated June 24, which expresses his vote to grant the May 29 request of Mr. Aguirre.
“The Court en banc met on the same day for an executive session and for the continuation of oral arguments, in connection with the petitions assailing the proclamation of martial law in Mindanao following the Marawi siege. The venue of criminal cases arising from the siege was not discussed,” Mr. Tijam said.
Similarly, he added, the benefits for the spouses of late judges and justices could have been acted upon faster if the issue was brought to the Supreme Court en banc.
“The en banc can immediately make a decision provided [an issue] is immediately brought to [the members’] attention. We cherish the importance of urgency of important matters,” Mr. Tijam said.
He noted that the Supreme Court penalizes members of the legal profession for inordinate delay so the “members of the court should hold ourselves on a higher standard of efficiency and integrity.”
Mr. Tijam also reiterated his call for the chief justice to attend the House proceedings in order to answer why she “dilly-dallied” on the request of the justice secretary and the survivorship benefits.
“I am of the thought that probably, the reason why the chief justice did not act on it was because she was not satisfied that the danger, the risk and the harm that may befall the non-transfer of the Maute prisoners to Metro Manila would be that large, would be that extensive.”
“But the point is, regardless of the sentiments, feelings of the chief justice, she should have taken the initiative of bringing it to the attention of the en banc because after all, it is the en banc that will decide for the court,” he said.
In his impeachment complaint, lawyer Lorenzo G. Gadon accused Ms. Sereno of intentionally delaying the release of a resolution granting the Department of Justice’s May 29 letter-request.
“Sereno has been delaying the issuance and release of the resolution because she failed to get a majority vote on her desire to keep the Maute and similar cases in Cagayan de Oro City, to the detriment of the service,” the complaint stated.
“Were the conditions existing on May 29, when Secretary Aguirre made the request for the transfer of the venue the same as Aug. 8, when the en banc finally relented to the request? That’s the question the Chief Justice should answer,” Mr. Tijam said.
Meanwhile, the University of the Philippines and the Office of the Ombudsman have responded to the directive of the House committee on justice to shed light on why some of the Statements of Assets and Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) of Ms. Sereno were missing.
The missing SALNs were supposedly filed by Ms. Sereno when she was UP professor in the years before she was appointed in 2010 as top magistrate by then President Benigno S.C. Aquino III.
During yesterday’s committee hearing, a letter from the UP Human Resources Development Office (HRDO) was read, stating that the office did not find the chief magistrate’s records in its file for the years 2000 to 2001 and 2003 to 2006.
According to the UP HRDO, Ms. Sereno was on official leave during these years until she resigned in 2006 as evidenced by her letter to then university chancellor Emerlinda R. Roman.
In previous hearings, the office’s Angela Escoto said her office had only retrieved the 2002 SALN of Ms. Sereno.
The UP official also said there were also no records in Ms. Sereno’s personal files in her office of “permission to engage in the limited practice of profession.”
“Based on the 201 file of Chief Justice Sereno, no record appears of the permission to engage in limited practice of profession,” she said.
UP faculty members were required to submit a form asking for permission to engage in private practice.
Mr. Gadon is accusing Ms. Sereno of failing to declare her earnings worth $745,000 or P37 million in her SALN when she served as a government counsel in the case with the Philippine International Air Terminals Co., Inc. before an international court in 2003 when she was a university professor.
Meanwhile, the Ombudsman’s office, through a letter, on Monday also submitted to the House panel certified true copies of Ms. Sereno’s 1998 SALN.
The Judicial and Bar Council (JBC), which was also subpoenaed by the House panel to submit copies of Ms. Sereno’s SALNs, has yet to comply.
JBC executive officer Annaliza Ty-Capacite said a resolution by the council in relation to the House directive was still being processed and finalized.
Applicants for the chief justice and justice positions are required to submit their SALNs to the JBC. — Minde Nyl R. dela Cruz with interaksyon.com