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Sereno may face impeachment

/ 09:39 PM August 06, 2014

Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno. INQUIRER.net FILE PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines—Liberal Party stalwarts on Wednesday said Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno may be impeached over the Judiciary Development Fund (JDF) if the complaint is “sufficient in form and substance.”

In a text message to INQUIRER.net on Wednesday, Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali said the issue over the court’s JDF “could be” a ground for impeachment “for as long as disbursements made thereon constitute graft and corruption, which is a ground for impeachment.”

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He added that Sereno may be impeached for “betrayal of public trust and/or culpable violation of the Constitution” for allegedly usurping the power of Congress’ purse.

Sereno is faced with allegations of usurping Congress’ power of the purse when she had under her discretion the JDF as mandated by the Presidential Decree 1949.

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The JDF, long seen as the court’s “pork barrel” funds,” is sourced from the funds collected by courts nationwide from docket and other court fees. These are not itemized by the Congress.

Presidential Decree 1949, dated July 18, 1984 created the JDF “in order to preserve and enhance the independence of the judiciary at all times and safeguard the integrity of its members,” being the lone apolitical branch of government.

Under PD 1949, 80-percent of the JDF shall be used to augment the allowances of justices, judges, and court personnel; the remaining 20-percent for office equipment and facilities.

The decree gave the Chief Justice discretion to handle these funds, which lawmakers, who want it amended or abolished, claimed could amount to billions of pork barrel-like funds.

Umali said the court under Sereno’s watch applied “double standards” when it usurped the power of Congress with their JDF even when it outlawed such practice in their decision under President Aquino’s Disbursement Acceleration Program.

“Let me add that there may have been betrayal of public trust and/or culpable violation of the Constitution when the court usurped the power of the purse of Congress, which the court recognized in the DAP case, and in applying double standards of justice on its own judicial pork barrel otherwise known as JDF,” Umali said.

Asked if he is keen on impeaching Sereno, Umali said: “I will continue my advocacy to hold any magistrate responsible for violating their oath of office in the name of judicial reform.”

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He added that he would be willing to endorse an impeachment complaint against Sereno “if sufficient in form and substance.”

Meanwhile, Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Farinas said he would be the complainant himself if there is such a sufficient impeachment complaint.

“If I see a commission of an impeachable offense and the official concerned would not cease and desist from doing it, I will be the complainant myself,” Farinas, who filed a bill amending the law that created JDF, said in a text message to INQUIRER.net.

He noted though that he has yet to see an impeachable offense “until I have seen the report showing the collections, disbursements, and expenditures of the JDF.”

Farinas said he will first bring to the SC’s attention such matters “that I have seen as usurpation of the legislative power.

“Hopefully, it will address and resolve them according to jurisprudence,” he said, adding he will do it on or before Monday.

Asked if he will file an impeachment rap after, Farinas said: “I will exercise all legal options available to me as member of the House of Representatives.”

Sereno snubbed Tuesday’s hearing of the lower chamber over the two bills amending or repealing the JDF. Justice committee chair Niel Tupas Jr. said this is the first time in four years that the high court snubbed a hearing involving the judiciary.

Such ideas for ouster may give way for a second impeachment trial in the country’s history after Congress impeached former Chief Justice Renato Corona over false declaration of wealth.

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Chief Justice Sereno snubs ‘unhealthy’ House probe into JDF

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