‘I’M TRYING TO DECIPHER REASON’ | CJ’s alleged failure to promptly act on transfer of Maute cases baffles Tijam

December 11, 2017 - 1:40 PM
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File photos of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno (from Philstar) and Supreme Court Justice Noel Tijam (from SC)

(UPDATED — 1:51 p.m.) MANILA, Philippines — Associate Justice Noel Tijam said members of the Supreme Court were kept in the dark about the letters from the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the recommendations of the court administrator requesting for the proceedings of the cases filed against members of the Maute extremist group to be transferred to Metro Manila from Mindanao.

Testifying during the resumption of the House Committee on Justice’s resumption of its hearing on the impeachment complaint against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, Tijam lamented that members of the high court, sitting en banc, should have taken immediate action on the DOJ request given the urgency of the matter.

“I’m trying to decipher the reason why the Chief Justice did not act on it promptly being the member in charge,” Tijam said.

He added, “I am of the thought that probably, the reason why the Chief Justice did not act on it was because she was not satisfied that the danger, tie risk and the harm that may befall the non-transfer of the Maute prisoners to Metro Manila would be that large, would be that extensive.”

“But the point is, regardless of the sentiments, feelings of the Chief Justice, she should have taken the initiative of bringing it to the attention of the en banc because after all, it is the en banc that will decide for the court,” said Tijam.

In his impeachment complaint, lawyer Lorenzo Gadon accused Sereno of intentionally delaying the release of a resolution granting the DOJ’s May 29, 2017 letter-request to transfer the prosecution, detention, and trial of all Maute Group-related cases from Cagayan de Oro City to Taguig City.

“Sereno has been delaying the issuance and release of the resolution because she failed to get a majority vote on her desire to keep the Maute and similar cases in Cagayan de Oro City, to the detriment of the service,” the complaint stated.

On July 18, 2017, one-and-a-half months after the DOJ’s request, the high court en banc finally allowed the transfer, designating the regional trial court of the National Capital Judicial Region stationed in Taguig to speedily act on all prosecutions and incidents arising from the violent incidents in Marawi City involving Maute members.

Last August 8, the court en banc issued a resolutions adopting the recommendations of the Office of the Court Administrator to transfer the cases to Taguig.

“Were the conditions existing on May 29, when Secretary Aguirre made the request for the transfer of the venue the same as August 8, when the en banc finally relented to the request? That’s the question the Chief Justice should answer,” Tijam said.

“It is important for the en banc to consider matters of urgency, and you can only do this is the en banc is given full, complete information,” he added.

‘It is unfortunate CJ didn’t trust court administrator’

Tijam said DOJ chief Vitaliano Aguirre II wrote Sereno at least four letters to appeal for the transfer of the case to Metro Manila. Court Administrator Midas Marquez, as early as May 31 also submitted a memorandum to Sereno backing the position of the DOJ that the trial of the case and detention of suspects be moved to Metro Manila.

The memo of Marquez cited the positions given by various groups in Cagayan de Oro, including business groups and the local court. Marquez also recommended two courts in Taguig that could handle the case.

“It is unfortunate that the Chief Justice did not trust the Court Administrator… she did not even inform us of the Court Administrator’s memo,” Tijam said.

Before the transfer of the case proceedings to Taguig, Tijam said that the court en banc issued on June 6, 2017 a resolution to hold trial on the Maute case in Cagayan de Oro.

The June 6 resolution was issued was after Sereno allegedly called Tijam to inform him over lunch, after their en banc session, that majority of the justice agreed to hold the trial in Cagayan de Oro.

Tijam said he had agreed to what Sereno told him “if that is the wish of the majority” but added that “there is a distinct difference between discussing something important and holding caucus on an important matter in front of plates, fork and spoon.”

Marquez said during the House hearing that after the June 6 resolution, Aguirre renewed the DOJ’s appeal to move the trial to Metro Manila. An en banc resolution was issued on July 18 (based on a June 27 en banc meeting), finally transferring the case to Taguig.

“I came to know that the June 27 resolution did not include the first-level courts, only the regional trial courts in Taguig, because there are case cognizable by first-level courts. Finally on August 8, a resolution was issued also designating first-level courts in Taguig,” Marquez said.

‘She’s not following the rules’

Also, during the hearing, Supreme Court Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo-De Castro, a member of the high court’s raffle committee, said the chief magistrate did not refer to the panel Aguirre’s request to be raffled off.

Describing Sereno’s move as “irregular,” she pointed out that chief justice should have submitted the request to the raffle committee on June 5, the day before the en banc session.

“There was ample time for her do that. There is nothing in the rules that allow her to designate herself as the member in charge… Everything should be referred to the raffle committee…It is an important case which should have been raffled to a member-in-charge and taken up during en banc session,” she said.

“She’s not following the rules and standard procedures followed in the court,” added De Castro.

She likewise claimed that Sereno had missed on bringing up the request to transfer the Maute cases even though it had already been included in the agenda during the court’s June 6 en banc session.