SUPREME Court Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo de Castro on Wednesday testified that Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno created the Judiciary Decentralized Office and appointed its head without the required approval of the entire Court, then lied about it in a resolution.
Appearing before Sereno’s impeachment hearing at the House committee on justice, De Castro said the chief justice issued Administrative Order 175-2012 to create the JDO, which was inconsistent with the Court’s 2006 decision to create a Regional Court Administration Office in Region 7.
She also unilaterally appointed Judge Geralding Econg as the head of the office, which was contrary to the en banc decision designating the court administrator as the chief of the RCAO.
“When I compared the AO issued by the chief justice, it did not conform with the provisions of these administrative matters approved by the court en banc,” De Castro said.
Sereno said she could not do this without the consent of the full Court.
“She cannot do it by herself because she has only one vote. And unless there is a delegation of authority by the court en banc, the chief justice cannot exercise the administrative supervision of all courts which is vested in the Supreme Court as a collegial body,” De Castro said.
De Castro said the full Court sustained her position that Sereno’s AO was contrary to the earlier decisions but so as not to embarrass the chief justice, the Court opted to create a study group. Sereno then promised to amend the questioned administrative order.
But De Castro said that to her suprise, a resolution issued on Nov. 27, 2012 said the Court en banc had ratified Sereno’s action and appointment of Econg.
Because of this, De Castro said she wrote another letter to the Court en banc.
“With due respect to the chief justice, to my recollection the resolution does not reflect the deliberation and consensus of the justices,” De Castro said in the letter.
But during the en banc deliberations, Sereno did not try to explain her actions nor attempt to answer the issues raised in her letter to the court, De Castro said.
On Jan. 22, 2013, the Supreme Court issued a corrective resolution creating a “Decentralization Needs Assessment Committee” to study and determine the necessity of decentralizing administrative functions, in effect overriding Sereno’s resolution.
De Castro, however, remained silent when Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas said that what Sereno did was a culpable violation of the Constitution, one of the allegations in lawyer Larry Gadon’s impeachment complaint against the chief justice.
Quoting De Castro’s letter to Sereno, he said the chief justice “cannot deprive the High Court of its constitutional duty to exercise administrative supervision over all courts and their personnel and the Office of the Court Administrator of its statutory duty…”
“This is the view of some and the complainant, that the chief justice of the Supreme Court violated the Constitution because she took for herself the power that the Constitution bestows on the full Supreme Court,” Fariñas said in Filipino.
He also noted that under Presidential Decree 828, the chief justice can only appoint staff with the approval of the full Court.
He said by revoking Sereno’s resolution, the Court had actually rebuked the chief justice.
The Sereno camp denied that the chief justice misrepresented the collegial decision of the Supreme Court in ordering the creation of the RCAO in Region 7 in 2012.
Lawyer Jojo Lacanilao, a spokesman for Sereno, said the statement of De Castro during impeachment hearing by the House committee on justice that Sereno issued Administrative Order No. 175-2012 without the approval of her colleagues as required in their internal rules was false.
“Precisely, the creation of said office, its budget as well as the designation of its staff, had already been approved and delineated in earlier resolutions of the Court,” Lacanilao said.
He said there was nothing illegal or irregular in the issuance of the order.
“The chief justice, after studying the problems besetting far-flung courts, simply implemented these earlier Court resolutions creating an RCAO in the seventh judicial region,” Sereno’s spokesman said.
Sereno’s camp also denied De Castro’s testimony that the Supreme Court reversed the chief justice’s order in a full-court resolution that nullified her administrative order.
Lacanilao dismissed the issue involving the RCAO as an “internal matter” that the SC justices should “resolve among themselves internally.”
“The chief justice did not fake any resolution. The orders she drafted were according to her understanding of the decision on the RCAO,” he said.
De Castro was also expected to testify on Sereno’s actions involving the disqualification of the Senior Citizens party-list group in the elections, and her maneuvers to disqualify then Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza to the Supreme Court.
De Castro has also been authorized by the Court to discuss the merits of her separate concurring opinion in the August 2014 ruling that voided the JBC’s decision not to include the name of then Jardeleza in the shortlist of nominees for SC justice post.
De Castro was joined by Court Administrator Jose Midas Marquez, who discussed the administrative process in the Supreme Court.
Apart from Justice De Castro, the House panel also invited Associate Justices Jardeleza and Noej Tijam, retired Associate Justice Arturo Brion, spokesperson Theodore Te, clerk of court Felipa Anama and chief judicial staff officer Charlotte Labayani. All of them skipped the hearing for various reasons.
The justice panel decided to invite Econg, now a Sandiganbayan associate justice, to shed light on the JDO.