Palace: No need for Ombudsman to check on Sereno wealth

MANILA – Malacanang sees no need for Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales to look into the wealth of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno following doubts on the latter’s assets amounting to nearly or over P18 million.
Sereno released Thursday her statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) for public scrutiny. Based on the data provided by the Supreme Court (SC), Sereno’s net worth jumped by some P200,000 to P17,985,375.51 from P17,762,167.26 in 2010.
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This SALN copy released by the SC Public Information Office was slightly different from the one obtained by Solar News Network from the Court en banc, which showed that her net worth was at P18,0029,575 for the same year.
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Allegations have it that Sereno earned at least P25 million for being one of the government’s lawyers on the case against the Philippine International Air Terminal Co. (Piatco) Inc., a private consortium that constructed the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3.
But presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said allegations on Sereno’s wealth should have been raised before the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) when the body was still on the process of selecting the nominees for Chief Justice.
“Now that they are being raised again, I think the best person to explain that would be Chief Justice Sereno. Narinig na namin ‘yan noon pa e. Patuloy ‘yung orkestra na ‘yan ang sinasabi tungkol sa kanyang trabaho sa Piatco. Lumabas na ‘yan noon ‘nung in-appoint siya bilang Justice of the Supreme Court. So sa tingin ko lumang tugtugin na po ‘yan e,” Lacierda said.
When asked if there is a need for the Ombudsman to look into Sereno’s wealth, Lacierda said: “Not at this point, I suppose.”
Sereno took oath as the new Chief Justice of the SC last week before President Benigno Aquino III. She is the 24th Chief Justice and the first woman to hold the highest position in the country’s judiciary.
Following her oath-taking, she vowed to stay true to her oath “until the end of her term.” She also promised to release her SALN.
True to her word, Sereno made public Thursday her assets and net worth, with the document obtained by Sun.Star showing that she has three house-and-lot properties located in Cainta, Rizal (Filinvest-East), Cavite and Davao, a memorial lot in Cavite, and another lot in Filinvest. She placed all her real properties as worth P10,481,500.
Aside from real properties, Sereno included in her inventory of assets a Toyota Altis 2005 model worth P760,000; Toyota Corolla 1997 model worth P320,000; and a second-hand 2003 model Mitsubishi Lancer worth P95,000.
The Chief Justice also stated in her SALN that she has a P1,185,602 cash in bank; receivables of P3,537,130.25; while her investments are worth P1,203,400.
On the other hand, her total liability is worth P1,242,203.34 broken down as follows: credit card billings worth P125,511.10, payables worth P116,692.24, and a loan at BPI Family Bank worth P1-million.
She likewise listed the shares of stocks of her husband, Mario Jose Sereno, in various companies, but did not indicate how many stocks they had or how much these are worth.
In a statement, Sereno said her assets already include the savings left from legal fees paid by the government to her in connection with the cases involving the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA)-Terminal 3 project, net of the amounts paid for value added tax, income tax, operating expenses and personal consumption.
The payment was made to her for services rendered from October 23, 2003 to July 31, 2008 as member of the government’s legal team in the arbitration cases in Singapore and Washington, DC for determination of damages to be awarded to NAIA-3 builder Piatco, and Fraport AG, one of its subcontractors.
Sereno also did not indicate her receivables and their shares of stock. She did not say whether the earnings she received from the NAIA-3 arbitration cases were those in her “receivables.”
The SALN of the justices were released following a directive from Sereno during the August 28 en banc session giving her consent to the Court en banc to release in full her SALN, even without a requesting party asking for it or without need to observe the conditions stated in the Court’s guidelines on SALN.
Sereno’s order to release her SALN came after the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) came out with a series of articles stating that the lady justice herself had not fully complied with the spirit of the SALN law, which ordered the full disclosure of the asset records of public officials, since in the past year she only disclosed summaries of her SALN.
Disbursement vouchers coming from the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA), which operates the NAIA-3, showed that Sereno, then the chief legal assistant of retired SC Justice Florentino Feliciano, who was the lead Philippine counsel in the arbitration cases, received a portion of the P2.65-billion payment.
The Philippine government was represented in Singapore by Washington-based arbitration lawyer Andrea J. Menaker of the White & Chase, LLP, with Feliciano and Sereno helping the Office of the Solicitor General in their capacity as experts and consultants in these cases.
The vouchers were signed and paid by MIAA General Managers Edgardo Manda and Alfonso Cusi, including their representatives Oscar Paras Jr. Marcelino Yumol Jr. and Arlene Britanico.
PCIJ reported that Sereno’s net worth in 2010 is only slightly lower than the P17,841,353.65 that she declared for 2009, when she listed assets of P17,996,810.82 and liabilities of P155,457.17.
It is still unsure if other justices will follow her example.
Sereno replaced Renato Corona on August 25, almost three months after he was found guilty by the Senate impeachment court for hiding multi-million peso cash assets in the SALN, an offense tantamount to betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the Constitution. (SDR/Virgil Lopez/JCV/Sunnex)

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