MANILA Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno filed a motion for inhibition before the Supreme Court against her colleague, Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo-De Castro, over repeatedly manifested actual bias, if not personal animosity, in connection with the quo warranto petition filed by the Office of Solicitor General (OSG) seeking to nullify her appointment.
In a statement Friday, Sereno filed a 30-page motion through her lawyers led by Alexander Poblador, citing De Castro's prejudgment on the issue regarding the validity of her appointment as chief justice in 2012, which is the subject matter in the quo warranto petition filed by the OSG.
Sereno noted that even before the filing of the petition, De Castro already determined that the chief justice was disqualified for the position, saying it can be "gleaned" from her testimony during the hearing of the House Committee on Justice on the impeachment complaint of lawyer Lorenzo Gadon.
With due respect, the Chief Justice has reasonable grounds to believe that Justice Leonardo-De Castro had already prejudged the issue regarding the validity of the Chief Justice's nomination and subsequent appointment in 2002, Sereno said.
Sereno stressed that De Castro must inhibit herself pursuant to Section 5, Canon 3 of the New Code of Judicial Conduct, which mandates the inhibition of a judge who is unable to decide the matter impartially or who may appear to a reasonable observer to be unable to decide a matter impartially.
It can be recalled that De Castro, during the impeachment hearing held last Jan. 29, repeatedly stated under oath that the chief justice was disqualified by virtue of her non-submission to the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) of her Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) when she was a law professor at the University of the Philippines.
In that hearing, De Castro uttered the following statements: Nakakataka ho, bakit ang JBC isinama sya sa short list? Dapat hodisqualified sya, eh. Hindi pala siya dapat nalagay sa short list (Its wondering why the JBC incuded her in the shortlist. She should disqualified. She is not indicated in the shortlist).
She even hinted that the JBC, which was then headed by its acting ex-officio chair Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta, could be liable for graft for allegedly giving Sereno unwarranted benefit.
According to Sereno, the fact that De Castro made her statements under oath, and before full presentation of the relevant facts, could lend to the perception of actual bias.
With due respect to Justice Leonardo-De Castro, it would be contrary to normal human experience for her to suddenly repudiate her conclusions that the Chief Justice was 'disqualified', especially when her conclusions were made under oath, she pointed out.
The country's top judge claimed that De Castro has personal interest in the outcome of the quo warranto case having been a material witness against her in the impeachment proceeding.
Her (De Castro) disqualification is thus mandatory under the pertinent provisions of the Canons of Judicial Ethics, the New Code of Judicial Conduct, the 1989 Code of Judicial Conduct, and the Internal Rules of the Supreme Court, Sereno said.
During her numerous appearances before the House justice panel, De Castro repeatedly accused the chief justice of violating the rules, procedures and practices of the Supreme Court. She also made insinuations questioning Sereno's psychological fitness for office.
De Castro also openly expressed her desire that Sereno be removed from office on account of the supposed long suffering of court officers and employees under her administration.
Considering her high profile and spirited public participation in the impeachment proceedings against the Chief Justice, she should, with due respect, bear in mind that her decision 'to sit or not to sit' on this case will affect to a great extent 'the all-important confidence' of the public in the ability of this Honorable Court to render justice impartially, Sereno argued.
Sereno also warned that De Castro's refusal to inhibit will violate her right to due process as guaranteed under Article III, Section 1 of the 1987 Constitution.
Due process of law, she said, requires a hearing before an impartial and disinterested tribunal and that every litigant is entitled to nothing less than the cold neutrality of an impartial judge.
In cases of compulsory inhibition, it is conclusively presumed that the judge cannot render judgment impartially or objectively. The judge cannot insist on hearing the case without wilfully violating the Constitution, the Chief Justice said.
It does not appear that Justice Leonardo-De Castro can decide this case with the cold neutrality required of an impartial judge. Independent of such presumption, it is respectfully submitted that there is clear and convincing evidence to show that she has prejudged the very issue in this case to the respondent's prejudice, she added.
Earlier, Sereno also moved for the inhibition of Associate Justices Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Francis Jardeleza and Noel Tijam for showing actual bias and animosity towards her.
All five justices testified against Sereno in the impeachment case pending in Congress and even actively participated in the so-called Red Monday protest in the SC that called for her resignation.
Sereno's filing of motions to inhibit was without prejudice to her contention that the high court has no jurisdiction over the quo warranto case and that she may only be removed from office upon impeachment by the House and conviction by the Senate, sitting as an impeachment court, pursuant to the 1987 Constitution and established jurisprudence.
Sereno has earlier asked the SC to dismiss Solicitor General Jose Calida's petition on technical grounds, particularly for lack of jurisdiction and violation of the one-year prescription period for the filing of such petitions.
She argued that the SC has no jurisdiction and authority to remove her from office because the 1987 Constitution provides that she could only be ousted by impeachment in Congress as she is an impeachable official.
Sereno, who is currently on indefinite leave, earlier said she is ready to face impeachment proceedings in the Senate anytime soon.
The SC has set the oral arguments in Baguio City on April 10. (PNA)
Source: Philippine News Agency