Sereno’s serial scourging

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“Read from both sides of the judicial aisle, both the majority decision and at least one in the minority, raise the issue of either fraud or falsification. If proven, those merit punitive consequences.”

Shorn of immunities from suits and unprotected by the very Constitution she was charged with culpably violating during the impeachment hearings at the House of Representatives, ousted Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno experienced a scourging among colleagues at the Supreme Court will feel like the good old days compared to administrative and criminal charges she has yet to face.

This time, the worst penalty will not simply be her removal from office. Now it is a question of accountability. Great sums of money and prospective prison time are in the cards.

The final curtain on this continuing scandal of a justice of the SC, stripped of her office due to incomplete requisite documentation, has not yet been drawn. The fat lady has not yet sung.

Our continuing misconception regarding her removal dwells on two aspects. One is that Sereno was a sitting justice and can only be removed through impeachment. That concept remains. What changed is Sereno’s status as a valid justice from the start. The question that faced the SC was whether an appointee validly sits if requisite documentation, indeed measures of integrity, when incomplete or fraudulent, warrant an appointment.

Read from both sides of the judicial aisle, both the majority decision and at least one in the minority, raise the issue of either fraud or falsification. If proven, those merit punitive consequences.

The other misconception is what was decided at the SC was limited to the mere incompleteness or completion of the documentation. Reading through both the majority and the dissenting opinions, the substance of Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) validity involves a more profound question of integrity, or its absence.

Beyond the administrative act of simply declaring her office vacant, Sereno’s liabilities turn gravely worse.

Allow us to cite pending issues she must answer for, two written, not from the majority decision, but from the dissenting side that questions the applicability of the Quo Warranto charge, plus another, written by Sereno’s own hand.

Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio opined Sereno “failed to file the required SALN upon her assumption to office, which is a clear violation of Section 17, Article XI of the Constitution.

In light of her previous failure to file her SALNs for several years…her failure to file her SALN upon assuming office in 2010 as Associate Justice of this Court constitutes culpable violation of the Constitution.”

This is in consonance with the majority decision where it is written, “One who fails to file his or her SALN violates the Constitution and the laws; and one who violates the Constitution and the laws cannot rightfully claim to be a person of integrity as such equation is theoretically and practically antithetical.”

Sereno herself, in Philippine Savings Bank vs. Senate Impeachment (GR 200238, Nov. 20, 2012), wrote “the Chief Justice is a public officer, he is constitutionally and statutorily mandated to perform a positive duty to disclose all of his assets and liabilities.”
Obviously, what goes around comes around.

The quo warranto decision was not about SALNs. It was about integrity or its lack thereof. Note the following:
According to the Bureau of Internal Revenue, Sereno received P32,494,805.27 from 2004 to 2009 for her role in the Philippine International Air Terminals Corp. cases and that P4,599,504.71 in taxes were withheld. Her net disposable income should, thus, be P27,895,300.56. This was not reflected in her SALNs for 2006 nor for 2009 where her net worth was only P7,936,353.00.

While the SC decision avers to this, it merely noted, “Respondent committed tax fraud when she failed to truthfully declare her income in her tax returns for the years 2007-2009 and in her value-added tax (VAT) returns for the years 2005-2009.”

However, considering the declaration of the Court of Appeals that $6 million in PIATCO fees was illegal, when added to penalties for missing SALNs and tax fraud as the SC noted, Sereno’s serial scourging may have just begun.