Solons find impeachment complaint vs Sereno in order
The first of two impeachment complaints against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno passed the twin tests of sufficiency in form and substance on Wednesday, setting the stage for further committee deliberations at the House of Representatives.
The House justice committee, voting 30-4, found enough basis to hear the charges against Sereno, including not declaring her real wealth, buying a luxury car with government funds and making questionable decisions without consulting her fellow magistrates.
But the same committee junked the second complaint by a vote of 28-5 due to flawed wording in the verification document.
The committee, chaired by Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali, separately found the complaint by lawyer Lorenzo Gadon sufficient in form and substance, despite the objections of some lawmakers who questioned the complainant’s extensive use of newspaper reports to bolster his case.
Sereno was given 10 days to respond to the charges, after which the House panel would schedule hearings for the determination of sufficiency of grounds and probable cause.
Her spokesperson, Carlo Cruz, said the Chief Justice had consistently adhered to her oath of office.
“We maintain that, contrary to the findings of the House committee on justice, none of the allegations in the complaints is true,” Cruz said in a statement.
Not impeachable offenses
He said the accusations against Sereno were not impeachable offenses as defined by the 1987 Constitution and were “unsupported by evidence or rely mainly on hearsay consisting of newspaper [reports].”
Cruz, a constitutional law expert and author of several law books, said Sereno’s legal team would file its rebuttal to the complaint on the committee.
“We maintain that Chief Justice Sereno has always lived a modest, God-fearing lifestyle. She has followed her oath of office and conducted herself with strict faithfulness to that oath,” he said.
A vote of one-third of the 293 members of the House will send the articles of impeachment to the Senate, whose members will serve as judges in the trial.
If impeached, Sereno would be the second Chief Justice to suffer such a fate following her predecessor, the late Renato Corona, who was impeached in December 2011 and found guilty by the Senate impeachment court in May 2012 for failing to disclose his real wealth in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth.
Corona died of a heart attack in April last year.
Critics said the Gadon complaint did not satisfy the stringent requirements of impeaching a public official, as it relied heavily on “hearsay” news reports, similar to the failed impeachment bid of Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano against President Duterte in May.
“Impeachment is a scalpel, not a broadsword. Even if it were, no sword retains its sharpness if swung too far and too often,” said Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman.
Lagman argued that the rules of procedure on the sufficiency in form and substance, as interpreted by the committee on justice, should be employed with the same efficacy and fervor.
“What is good to liberate President Duterte should be good to liberate Chief Justice Sereno,” he said.
Dinagat Islands Rep. Kaka Bag-ao noted that as many as 11 allegations in the Gadon complaint were based only on attached newspaper clippings.
But Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas said the complaint had attached certified true copies of at least 20 documents released by the Supreme Court upon Gadon’s request to strengthen his case, including administrative orders, appointment papers and travel documents.
Umali noted major differences between Gadon’s complaint and Alejano’s.
“We have a private complainant in the person of Attorney Gadon who did his homework. While he may not have personal knowledge, he appended to his complaint authentic records and that is lacking in the Alejano complaint,” Umali said.
Alejano, on his Twitter account, said the House showed “double standard” in treating the impeachment complaints, such as justifying the use of newspaper reports and allowing discussion on the contents of the complaint while his was questioned at that stage.
Gadon said: “Of course, I am happy. I am elated. This is democracy at work.”
The second complaint—filed by Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption chair Dante Jimenez and Vanguard of the Philippine Constitution Inc. president Eligio Mallari—was dismissed by the panel for insufficiency in form as a result of flawed wording in the verification document.
The head of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) reminded lawmakers to maintain their independence while discussing the impeachment complaint.
“I just hope they exercise independent judgment and not make this a mere numbers game wherein just because of (political) party (affiliations), they will vote in favor of something that is not thoroughly deliberated on,” IBP president Abdiel Dan Elijah Fajardo told the Inquirer over the phone. —Reports from DJ Yap and Marlon Ramos
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