December 12, 2017, 10:48 am
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Sereno sees Duterte, Alvarez hands in impeachment case

CHIEF Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno yesterday finally broke her silence, saying she believes that President Duterte and Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez may have a hand in the impeachment bid against her.

In an interview with ANC’s Headstart, Sereno said it is obvious that Duterte wants her out as Chief Justice due to his recent pronouncements – or lack of it.

“I think at one time, he thought that Atty. (Lorenzo) Gadon’s complaints regarding my extravagant lifestyle had some basis and then he kept quiet about it. So let us just say that I understand that he has also asked me and the Ombudsman (Conchita Carpio Morales) to resign at the same time. So does he have a hand in this impeachment? Well, I go by his official pronouncements,” she said.

Sereno added that her lawyers are still determining Alvarez’s supposed involvement.

“This is a matter that my lawyers are still considering. Whether it should be raised, and at which point it should be raised, I will have to listen to the lawyers whether that will be brought up,” she said.

While Sereno was speaking her mind, Alvarez warned that her lawyers will be barred from attending the hearing of the House committee on justice tomorrow if she will not show up to defend herself.

“I will not allow her lawyers to appear at the committee hearing. They have no business being there. They’re not the ones being impeached. If Sereno were there, then they can accompany her. If the principal is not there, what’s their business attending the committee hearing if they were not invited?” Alvarez told radio dzRH.

Malacañang said the impeachment process would give Sereno a chance to defend herself and prove whether the allegations against her are true or not.

“Kaya po meron tayong proseso sa impeachment para malaman ng taong bayan ang katotohanan. So kung trumped-up charges po ‘yan, lalabas at lalabas naman po ‘yan sa Kongreso, unang-una, at sa Senado. So hayaan na po natin ang proseso na magpatuloy,” Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said.

Sereno also noted that Roque had asked for her resignation. “The last statement that we had from the presidential spokesperson is that I should leave my office, so I think I understand,” she said.

She said Duterte’s desire to oust her came as a surprise considering they have no history of personal conflicts.

“We have had no personal skirmish at all. The only time I remember that he made a remark against me was in connection with the letter I wrote to him in August of 2016, requesting that due process be afforded the judges,” she recalled.

“Basically, I was really emphasizing the need to defend the institutions and to allow the institutions to conduct their own investigations of their errant members because the moment you announce the names of judges, you basically take them out of their functions,” Sereno added, referring to Duterte’s announcement of judges supposedly involved in the illegal drugs trade.

Sereno called on elected officials not to abuse the impeachment process for “vengeance or personal agenda.”

“I hope everybody involved rises to the requirements of the Constitution that this (impeachment) should not be done for personal vengeance or for personal agenda, but this is only a mechanism for accountability,” she said, adding she is determined to fight it out in the proper forum.

“The impeachment proceeding is getting to be larger than myself. This is no longer just about me. It is about our democracy,” Sereno said.

“If they can do this to the Chief Justice – fabricate charges – I’m not saying that, but some say – if they can do this to the Chief Justice and deny her of her basic constitutional rights, who is safe in this country?” she added.

She reiterated her previous claims that she did nothing wrong to warrant her removal from office, adding she is looking forward to proving the allegations contained in the impeachment complaint were “all lies and pure fabrications.”

“It is not that difficult because my conscience is clear,” she said.  

 “I look forward, mga kababayan, na masabi ko sa inyo ang katotohanan kasi wala naman ho talaga akong itinatago.”

In his impeachment complaint, Gadon cited 27 acts where Sereno allegedly betrayed public trust, committed 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 then Chief Justice Renato Corona in 2012.

NO POSTPONEMENT

Alvarez said the committee on justice will push through with the hearing since congressmen can consider all the evidence against Sereno even if she ignores the committee’s summons.

“We will consider the evidence, all the official documents, as we will be the prosecutor in the impeachment case in the Senate,” he said. “If Sereno does not appear, we will not allow her lawyers to be there. What will they do there? As kibitzers? Or will they want only to be interviewed by media?”

Rep. Rey Umali (PDP-Laban, Oriental Mindoro), chair of the House committee on justice, earlier warned Sereno that she would be waiving her rights to controvert the allegations against her if she will not attend the committee’s hearings.

Umali said the committee is not inclined to allow the lawyers to cross-examine witnesses that will be presented against her in the impeachment case she is facing.

Asked to comment on Sereno’s plan to elevate the case to the Supreme Court, Alvarez said: “Sereno’s lawyers should know that Congress has exclusive jurisdiction over impeachment cases. So why would they go to the Supreme Court?

“When your defense is weak, you will be afraid to appear in the hearing. But if you know that you have done nothing wrong, you will not be afraid to face your accusers. It’s as simple as that.”

Alvarez also slammed Sereno for saying that her lawyers are determining if he had a role in the impeachment case against her, since she testified against him in the alleged anomalous deal involving the Philippine International Air Terminals Co. Inc. (PIATCO).

The Filipino Alliance for Transparency and Empowerment (FATE) pointed out earlier that Alvarez had served as Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) senior assistant general manager.

A former transportation secretary during the Arroyo administration, Alvarez was accused of benefiting from the awarding of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal 3 build-operate-transfer (BOT) contract to PIATCO.

Deputy Speaker Sharon Garin defended Alvarez, saying the House is composed of about 300 congressmen and “he, by himself alone, cannot decide on (impeachment) proceedings.”

Deputy Speaker Gwen Garcia said the PIATCO case is irrelevant to the impeachment case against Sereno.

“Of course the Chief Justice may always bring this up when she appears before the Committee on Justice. But we very well know that when we take up a particular issue, we must focus on the issue,” she said.

In a separate interview with reporters, Alvarez said: “Please tell her (Sereno) to just argue on the merits and appear before the committee on justice.”

Garcia said Congress will remain focused on passing its remaining legislative priorities for the year and will not be distracted by the hearings of the committee on justice on the determination of probable cause of the impeachment complaint.

Garin said the House remains on track with its legislative agenda, approving seven of its nine priority measures.

The seven priority bills approved on third and final reading by the House are the Comprehensive Tax Reform Program (HB 5636); Utilization of the Coconut Levy Fund (HB 7545); United National (ID) Identification System Act (HB 6621); Strengthening the Balik-Scientist Program (HB 65792); Occupational Safety and Health Standards Compliance Act (HB ​64); Enhanced Universal Health Care Act (HB 5784); and Amendments to the Public Service Act.

“These were approved despite the fact that we were busy with the (national) budget. Right now, we still have 21 more priority bills which were agreed upon during the periodic House-Senate Leadership Meet held last October 4, 2017 to identify six measures that we would try to pass before the end of the year,” said Garin. – With Jocelyn Montemayor 
 
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