‘Justice not a numbers game’
Numbers cannot overwhelm truth and justice in efforts to oust Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno in the House of Representatives dominated by allies of President Duterte, her spokespersons said on Friday, a day after a congressional committee found sufficient grounds to impeach her.
Thursday’s 25-2 vote by the House committee on justice cleared the way for the next step to her impeachment—the determination of probable cause.
Once that is established, the support of only one-third of the 293 members of the House would send the impeachment complaint to the Senate for trial.
The committee vote “was not unexpected,” Sereno’s spokespersons said in a statement.
“Congress, after all, is a numbers game,” they said. “But the truth is not a numbers game. Justice is not a numbers game. The Chief Justice remains confident that, in the end, truth and justice will prevail.”
Meanwhile, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, who is also under threat of being removed from her post, said on Friday that she was uncowed by plans by the President himself to file an impeachment complaint against her.
“I can stand my ground. I have nothing to hide, therefore I’m not fearing anything,” Morales said in an interview with GMA News. “I’m being scared? No! Never!”
Mr. Duterte on Wednesday said an impeachment complaint would be filed against Morales for being part of a “conspiracy” to oust him and for practicing “selective justice.”
He made the threat after the Office of the Ombudsman announced it was investigating his and his family’s alleged hidden wealth.
The President said he would also file an impeachment complaint against Sereno for alleged corruption, citing the Chief Justice’s undeclared professional fees that she had received from the government in the Piatco case, which was also one of the grounds cited by lawyer Lorenzo Gadon in his impeachment complaint.
Sereno’s spokespersons questioned the manner in which members of the House committee voted, saying they did so without deliberating on each of the 27 allegations specified in Gadon’s complaint.
Gadon’s charges against Sereno also included her alleged failure to declare her real wealth in her statement of assets, liabilities and net worth, including P37 million in lawyer’s fees, and buying a P5-million Toyota Land Cruiser for her personal use with government funds.
He also alleged that Sereno made questionable decisions without consulting her fellow magistrates and manipulated judicial appointments.
Sereno’s spokespersons said it was alarming that Gadon’s complaint was found sufficient when even the lawyer himself conceded that some of his charges were “not impeachable offenses, and that others are still being deliberated by the Supreme Court.”
Sereno’s right to cross-examine her accusers, “a fundamental right enshrined in our Constitution,” was also ignored by the committee, they said.
Show of solidarity
Outside Morales’ office, prodemocracy activists and civil society leaders joined employees of the Office of the Ombudsman in morning prayers on Friday to show support for the country’s chief antigraft prosecutor.
Among them was former Education Secretary Armin Luistro who said it appeared that Morales was being persecuted and they wanted to show support for her through prayers.
Morales briefly met Luistro and the others to thank them but she opted to stay away from the gathering because, as Luistro said, “it might be taken the wrong way, and ‘[she] would be accused of being the one to have organized it,’ or that ‘[she was] politicizing this gathering.’”
“The Office of the Ombudsman is grateful for your expression of solidarity in support of the institution and its steadfast commitment to uphold the rule of law and perform its constitutional mandate. We join you in praying for our country,” Morales said in a message that was read during the assembly.
Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano, former Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman and former Commission on Human Rights Chair Loretta Rosales also attended the gathering, along with actor Pen Medina and media watchdogs Vergel Santos and Melinda Quintos de Jesus.
‘Direct assault on democracy’
The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) on Friday also expressed support for the Office of Ombudsman and its “gravest concern on the threatening pronouncements” by the President against Morales.
“This cannot but be construed as a direct assault on the independence of a Constitutional body, which should not be tolerated in any democracy,” the CHR said.
Alejano said the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission created by Mr. Duterte was unconstitutional and would only overlap with the Ombudsman’s functions.
He said the new commission was meant to threaten and intimidate the Ombudsman.
“This is also an assault on the Ombudsman,” he said.
The commission created under Executive Order No. 43 was “solely dedicated” to assist the President in investigating complaints and fact-finding inquiries on erring government officials.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson said the President might have given the Ombudsman more teeth to go after corrupt government officials by creating the commission.
“It’s an irony that while the President may want a body to check on the Ombudsman, he created one that the Ombudsman needs exactly. It’s interesting to watch how this new partnership plays,” Lacson told reporters in a text message on Friday.
Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said the commission had no power over constitutional bodies and it could not be used to discipline any member, official and employee outside the executive branch, including the judiciary and the Ombudsman.
Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III said there was nothing wrong in creating a commission as long as the body was aware of the limitations of its functions and powers.
Not for harassment
Chief presidential legal counsel Salvador Panelo said the new commission would not be used by Mr. Duterte to harass critics.
“We have a different kind of president. He doesn’t like this kind of harassment,” Panelo said.
Panelo also said he was studying whether the provision in the Ombudsman charter that grants the Ombudsman investigatory powers over impeachable officials was unconstitutional.
“My theory is the provision of the Ombudsman law is unconstitutional because it circumvents the doctrine of presidential immunity,” he said.
The President should only be investigated after his term ends, he said. —WITH REPORTS FROM JAYMEE T. GAMIL, LEILA B. SALAVERRIA AND JOCELYN R. UY
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.