June 23, 2018, 10:22 am
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‘Sufficient ammo to oust Sereno’

PRESIDENT Duterte’s allies at the House of Representatives yesterday decided that there is probable cause to impeach Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno, whose appointment in 2012 is also being challenged before the Supreme Court.

Voting 38-2, the House committee on justice chaired by Rep. Reynaldo Umali (PDP-Laban, Oriental Mindoro) approved the motion of Rep. Eugene De Vera (PL, ABS) and Deputy Speaker Gwen Garcia to find probable cause in the impeachment complaint filed by lawyer Larry Gadon.

The two lawmakers who voted against the motion were Reps. Arlene Bag-ao (LP, Dinagat Islands) and Jose Christopher Belmonte (LP, Quezon City).

“If you look at the testimonies, especially of credible ones made by (Sereno’s fellow) justices, the only thing they’re sure of is that the Chief Justice does not have a rapport with her colleagues,” said Belmonte.

Lawyer Jojo Lacanilao, one of Sereno’s spokespersons, said the decision of the House justice committee was “anti-climactic” since it has already prejudged the case at the outset of the proceedings.

“We actually anticipated that. In fact, it was anti-climactic since many months ago the leadership of the committee was saying it’s a done deal, there’s marking on the wall and they have enough evidence to actually convict the Chief Justice,” he said, in a statement.

Lacanilao said the development is favorable to them because now the House would take upon itself the burden to prove the impeachment charges in trial at the Senate.

In his opening statement, Umali said that after 18 hearings, the panel now has enough evidence to forcibly remove Sereno from office.

“Throughout the probable cause hearings, this committee has gathered sufficient evidence to provide us with the ammunition to prosecute this case toward victory,” he told the panel.

Deputy Speaker Raneo Abu (NP, Batangas), an ex-officio member of the panel, said “the House committee on justice just performed its constitutional duty of making the Chief Justice accountable to her actions.”

“Due process was followed and observed,” Abu pointed out. “Now that the panel has chosen the rule of law by upholding the regularity and integrity of the impeachment process, she should not waste this opportunity to defend herself in the Senate Impeachment Court.”

On March 14, congressmen will approve both the committee report and the Articles of Impeachment which majority leader Rodolfo Fariñas said will be prepared by a “small working body” composed of committee vice chairmen.

The committee on rules chaired by majority leader Rodolfo Fariñas has 10 session days to include it in the order of business of the plenary which has 60 session days to dispose of an impeachment complaint.

Gadon accused Sereno of betrayal of public trust, corruption, and other high crimes, particularly the untruthful declaration of her wealth in her Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN), the same ground that allies of former president Benigno Aquino III used to oust Corona in 2012.

The complaint also accused Sereno of acting unilaterally on matters involving the Court en banc – the reason why her colleagues led by Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo-De Castro testified in the impeachment hearings at the House.

During the impeachment hearing, the committee found out that Sereno should have been disqualified for her failure to submit her SALN to the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) when she was appointed in 2012 which should have voided her appointment.

The same issue was the basis of a 34-page quo warranto petition filed by Solicitor General Jose Calida who asked the Tribunal last Monday to declare void Sereno’s appointment and remove her from her position.
 
WHITTLE DOWN

In his manifestation, Fariñas asked colleagues to whittle down the number of allegations that will be part of the Articles of Impeachment, choosing only the solid ones from the 27 listed by Gadon.

Fariñas recalled that when the House impeached then Chief Justice Renato Corona in 2011, he did not sign the complaint because it was rushed and poorly crafted.

He, however, later became part of the prosecution panel after then Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. “prevailed upon me.”

“When it reached the Senate, we were groping in the dark. We were ridiculed, admonished so my advice is study the complaint carefully and let’s pick only a few (allegations),” he said.

The House directly transmitted to the Senate the complaint against Corona after mustering the constitutional requirement of two-thirds vote. The Senate, sitting as an Impeachment Court, voted to convict him in 2012.

However, unlike Corona who was not given a chance to answer the allegations in the complaint before the justice panel, Fariñas said Sereno “was given every opportunity to present her side but she chose not to.”

“In fact, what happened here is the opposite – it was the Chief Justice’ camp who was telling us, ‘Just file the complaint in the Senate.’ Do not tell us when to file it,” Fariñas said. “The problem is you’re not the Chief Justice here, you’re a respondent here.”

Rep. Anthony Bravo (PL, COOP-NATCCO) said the people should ask themselves if they still trust the Chief Justice after everything that has been revealed in the public hearings and if the Supreme Court can “still serve the people as a collegiate body that is the last bastion of truth, justice and democracy, knowing now that it is divided beyond repair not just legally but, also, ironically, politically.”

“Third, can its rulings still be accepted by our people as competent, credible, and consistent, given that their dirty linen has been washed in public for all to see, hear and feel?” he said.

The panel also voted to declassify the details of its February 27 hearing where Sereno’s psychological evaluation was discussed in an executive session.

Deputy majority leader Juan Pablo Bondoc moved that the psychological test results be declassified, saying it would also give Sereno the opportunity to deny it.

“It might come out that she’s not sick in the head. The public has yet to know the contents of that hearing,” he said.

Umali said the discussions in the executive session would be vital once the complaint reaches the trial stage.

“If it remains classified, then we won’t be able to use it. I think we need to use this to prove our case in the Senate,” he said.
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