“We will conduct preliminary investigation to determine if there is probable cause to charge her of any offense,” Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II said in a text message yesterday. Philstar.com/File Photo
MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Justice (DOJ) will investigate the criminal charge against Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno despite her being an impeachable official who enjoys immunity from criminal suit while in office, Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II said yesterday.
Aguirre said the DOJ will conduct preliminary investigation on the complaint filed last week by lawyer Lorenzo Gadon – also the complainant in the impeachment case against Sereno at the House of Representatives – for alleged failure to file her statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) for 17 years when she was still teaching law at the University of the Philippines.
“We will conduct preliminary investigation to determine if there is probable cause to charge her of any offense,” Aguirre said in a text message yesterday.
This means the DOJ will summon Sereno and require her to answer the allegations in the complaint for Republic Act 6713 (Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees) and RA 3019 (Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act).
But as the DOJ is set to proceed with the resolution of Gadon’s criminal charge against Sereno, Aguirre has confirmed that any results will have to be shelved while Sereno remains in office.
“Since she is an impeachable official, assuming that there exists probable cause, we could not file it as long as she remains an impeachable official,” he explained.
Should the investigating prosecutors find probable cause in the complaint, the findings would still have to be submitted to the Office of the Ombudsman for review since the charges fall under the jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan.
“We will dismiss it if there is no probable cause,” Aguirre said.
In his complaint, Gadon accused Sereno of violating the law when she only filed SALNs for three years – 1998, 2002 and 2006 – during her tenure as law professor at the UP College of Law for 20 years from 1986 up to 2006.
Meanwhile, Supreme Court Justice Andres Reyes Jr. is also expected to uphold the information relayed by Court of Appeals Justice Remedios Salazar-Fernando that Sereno intervened in the case of six Ilocos Norte employees, who were detained in Congress last year.
The impeachment complaint filed by Gadon specifically accused Sereno of ordering Reyes, a former presiding justice of the CA, to defy congressional summons and show cause orders on the case of six Ilocos Norte government employees.
Fernando repeatedly told lawmakers last week that it was best to ask Reyes if Sereno gave specific instructions to him in mid-2017 to file a petition for prohibition before the SC.
“According to our presiding justice (Reyes), he was given an assurance by the Chief Justice and she and the SC will protect the CA,” Fernando told the House committee on justice.
“And according to our presiding justice, in his talk with Chief Justice, she advised the three justices to file a petition before the SC with the TRO, at siya na daw bahala (and she will take care of it) and everyone was silent about it,” she added.
Fernando was referring to CA Justices Stephen Cruz, Nina Antonino-Valenzuela and Edwin Sorongon, whom the House directed to explain why they should not be cited in contempt for ordering the release of the six employees of Ilocos Norte government.
The six provincial government employees under Gov. Imee Marcos were detained in relation to a congressional inquiry on the local government’s anomalous purchase of motor vehicles using tobacco excise tax. – With Delon Porcalla