Open-and-shut case: Sereno is a fake Chief Justice

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IT turns out that Ma. Lourdes Sereno is a fake Chief Justice.

This has emerged as an indisputable fact, and Solicitor General Jose Calida’s move asking the Supreme Court to remove her is an open-and-shut case.

By failing to submit her statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) for at least seven years (1999 to 2006, except for 2002), she not only violated the Constitution and the two laws that required such for all government personnel except laborers. That violation of the law disqualified her to be even a member of the Supreme Court.

Sereno also had not complied with the very specific requirements issued by the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) in 2012 that candidates for the Chief Justice post who are or have been in government must submit all their previous SALNs.

Karma it certainly is. President Aquino used as a smokescreen to get the Senate to remove then Chief Justice Renato Corona the allegation that he submitted an incomplete SALN, as he did not include his dollar accounts. Now Sereno will be removed because she did not file the required SALNs for several years.

That she failed to submit her SALNs for at least seven years has been established beyond any doubt by the University of the Philippines where she had been an instructor, by the Office of the Ombudsman to which she was required to submit the reports every year, and by the JBC

Excuses preposterous
Sereno’s excuses have been preposterous. In 2012, she requested the JBC that she be “treated as a private sector” so that she need not submit her SALN. She was clearly not, having been with the faculty of the government institution. The JBC did not even respond to her strange request.

When the issue was raised recently, her spokesman Carlo Cruz claimed that the UP had cleared her of all “academic/administrative responsibilities…which would of course include the SALN requirements.” That argument was as ignorant as it was stupid: SALNs for her rank are required to be submitted to the Ombudsman, not to the UP.

Sereno cannot produce copies of her SALNs, even as the procedure for such submission is for a third copy to be receipted by the receiving office, and given to the official submitting the document.

That she did not submit her SALNs for several years could not have been uncovered if the House committee on justice investigating the complaint for her impeachment had not subpoenaed the three bodies (UP, the Ombudsman, and the JBC) to submit her SALN.

Why on earth didn’t she file her SALNs?

One probable reason is that despite her extremely puffed-up ego and sense of grandiosity (as found by the Supreme Court’s psychologists who evaluated her), she still had a realistic view of her qualifications, which she knew would never qualify her as a member of the Supreme Court, much less its head.

Obscure academic
She knew that with her qualifications and character, she would spend her legal career as an obscure academic and legal researcher, so that nobody would bother her to ask if she had complied with the SALN requirement. Her omission though does reflect her sense of impunity of the law, that she could ignore the SALN requirements which for her was simply a bother to comply with.

Another possible reason, involving especially her failure to file her SALNs from 2003 onwards, was that she worried that it might be discovered that she allegedly hadn’t reported the P37 million she was paid as legal assistant to the government’s legal panel in its case against the Naia Terminal 3 contractor in the international court of arbitration.

But doesn’t the Constitution say that the Chief Justice – among several other state officials – can only be removed through an impeachment trial, which is recommended by the House of Representatives and undertaken by the Senate?

GOODBYE AND GOOD RIDDANCE LETTER? Statement of 13 justices asking her to go on ‘indefinite leave’ read by SC spokesman.

No. And the short answer is that the Constitution’s provision on impeachment cannot apply to Sereno since in the first place, she is a fake Chief Justice.

There are precedents for this. It is ironic—another case of karma perhaps—that the most recent and clearest precedent was a Supreme Court decision in 2012 made in response to Aquino’s efforts to oust an official appointed by his predecessor President Arroyo, Commission on Audit chairman Reynaldo Villar.

Aquino wanted to immediately replace Villar with Grace Pulido-Tan of “kahindik-hindik” fame. Aquino wanted to make sure that the COA’s investigations of the infamous pork-barrel scam would target the opposition and spare his party-mates, and of course he didn’t trust the Arroyo-appointed COA head.

Prescient decision
In that case, the court ruled that Villar, even if the Constitution provides that the COA chair can be removed only by impeachment, can be ousted if his appointment in the first place violates the Constitution and other laws, which it did.

The court’s decision is eerily prescient. Villar buckled under Aquino’s pressure, and stepped down before the court could issue its decision. That could have made the issue moot and academic.

Yet the court still decided on the issue, pointing out: “Justice demands that we act, not only for the vindication of the outraged right, though gone, but also for the guidance of and as a restraint in the future.”

That future is obviously now, in the case of Sereno’s removal. The fact that 13 out of the 15 justices—one was on vacation—asked her to go on indefinite leave certainly indicates how they will vote on the Solicitor General’s plea to rule her as a fake chief justice.

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