Sereno camp blasts 'coordinated efforts' to malign Chief Justice

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 28) — There are coordinated efforts to oust Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, her spokespersons said Wednesday.

Sereno's camp maintained the Chief Justice cannot be removed from office through the quo warranto proceedings sought by a suspended lawyer.

"Makikita po natin na isa ito sa mga inilatag na coordinated efforts para patuloy na sirain, sibakin si Chief Justice," Sereno spokesperson Josa Deinla said.

[Translation: "We can see that this is part of coordinated efforts to destroy and oust Chief Justice Sereno."]

This refers to the Eligio Mallari's earlier move asking the Office of the Solicitor General to look into the validity of Sereno's appointment.

Mallari said under the Rules of Court, someone found guilty of "unlawfully holding or exercising a public office" can be ousted through quo warranto proceedings.

A quo warranto is a legal proceeding where an individual's right to hold office is challenged.

He said Sereno repeatedly failed to file her Statements of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN), which is one of the requirements for those applying for the Chief Justice post.

House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez on Wednesday said he believes Solicitor General Jose Calida should question Sereno's appointment before the high court.

Sereno's camp, however, maintained the Chief Justice can only be removed from office through impeachment.

Justices against Sereno?

"Parang kitang kita, may coordinated efforts. Nag-file sa Ombudsman, nag-file ng quo warranto, ngayon mukhang sa Supreme Court meron din tayong narinig yesterday, may mga ganung efforts," said Jojo Lacanilao, another Sereno spokesperson.

[Translation: "It is obvious there are coordinated efforts. They filed before the Ombudsman, they filed quo warranto, and now it seems there are efforts of this kind also in the Supreme Court."]

Lacanilao further said he could not confirm reports the Chief Justice was pressured or forced by the justices into filing an indefinite leave during the Supreme Court's en banc session Tuesday.

He said he has no personal knowledge since he was not present during the closed-door meeting, and that he has not talked to the Chief Justice about it.

"If that happened, that would have been an extra-constitutional effort to remove the CJ form a position na ang dapat lang mag-remove sa kanya ang Senado through an impeachment process," he said.

The high court has yet to issue an official statement on what was tackled during Tuesday's en banc session, but sources told CNN Philippines Sereno's leave was discussed.

Sereno is going on an "indefinite" wellness leave from March 1 to 15 to prepare for her anticipated impeachment trial at the Senate, her spokespersons said.

READ: Chief Justice Sereno to go on indefinite leave for impeachment trial  

Sereno's camp also cast doubts on an alleged manifesto supposedly circulating in the Supreme Court, calling on the the Chief Justice to resign.

Lacanilao said the two-page manifesto did not even bear signatures of those who wrote and supported them.

Larry Gadon, the lawyer who filed the impeachment case against Sereno, on Wednesday said Sereno should have just resigned to save herself form the troubles of impeachment.

'BIR probe unfair'

Sereno's spokespersons also slammed the probe of the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) on Sereno's tax records, saying it failed to go through due process.

READ: BIR finds discrepancies in CJ Sereno's tax records  

Lacanilao said contrary to usual procedure, Sereno was not asked to comment on the alleged discrepancies the BIR had found.

"Maraming pong patently unfair na nangyari po diyan sa BIR and we can answer that pagdating sa Senado [The BIR investigation is patently unfair; but we will challenge the accusations at the Senate]," he said. "We have proof, we have evidence. Bottomline, CJ declared all the income she received and she paid all the taxes that she needed to pay."

The House Committee on Justice has ordered the BIR to investigate Sereno's tax records from 2004 to 2009, covering her work as government counsel with the Philippine International Air Terminals Company Incorporated or PIATCO case.

The chief magistrate is accused of not declaring her case earnings amounting to P30 million in her SALN, and that she did not pay the corresponding taxes.

In the impeachment case, Sereno is accused of violating the Constitution, corruption, betrayal of public trust, and other high crimes - grounds for officials to be impeached under the Constitution.

The House committee on Justice is expected to vote next week on probable cause in the impeachment case against her. The panel will send a committee report to the plenary.

A vote of at least one-third of the members of the House of Representatives, or 98 out of the 292 incumbent congressmen, may then start an impeachment trial at the Senate.

READ: House panel to decide on Sereno impeachment complaint next week