Duterte allies foiled in first bid to impeach Sereno
Published: 6:40 p.m., Aug. 2, 2017 | Updated 12:36 a.m., Aug. 3, 2017
President Rodrigo Duterte’s allies on Wednesday filed an impeachment complaint against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, but no member of the House of Representatives came forward to endorse the complaint.
Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) chair Dante Jimenez and Vanguard of the Philippine Constitution Inc. (VPCI) president Eligio Mallari submitted the first complaint against Sereno to the House secretary general.
But without an endorsement, the complaint was not considered to have been officially filed.
Lawyer Lorenzo Gadon also announced that he was filing another impeachment complaint against Sereno, but he said he had not done so as of Wednesday afternoon.
Gadon told reporters that a number of House members had expressed willingness to endorse it but said he wanted to read the complaint first.
“They wanted more [of their colleagues] to sign the complaint, not just one or two,” he said.
Under the 1987 Constitution, an impeachment complaint may be filed by a non-House member only if it is endorsed by a House member.
The Inquirer tried to contact Sereno for comment but her office said the Chief Justice had yet to read the complaints against her.
Violation of Charter
In their 16-page complaint, Jimenez and Mallari cited five instances in which Sereno committed culpable violation of the 1987 Constitution or betrayal of the public trust.
“Not only once or twice or thrice, but five times, she disregarded the Supreme Court en banc. When they decide on rulings, all justices should sit on it, not her alone. What she did was she made decisions, created offices, refused to fill vacancies, without consulting other justices,” Jimenez said.
“The scary thing here is we have a dictator, one who does not consult her own peers. This is very dangerous in a democratic country,” he said.
Jimenez and Mallari accused Sereno of, among other things, giving members of her staff allowances for foreign travel charged to Supreme Court funds without approval of the full court.
They said Sereno also betrayed the public trust “through inexcusable negligence” for sitting on the applications for the posts of Supreme Court deputy clerk of court and chief attorney, which had been vacant for three years and eight months, and the two positions for assistant court administrator, which had been vacant for four years and six months.
They said Sereno culpably violated the Constitution in issuing an administrative order creating the new Judiciary Decentralized Office and reopening the Regional Court Administration Office in Western Visayas in the absence of an authority from the full court.
Litany of lapses
Gadon sent reporters a copy of his complaint. It accused Sereno of a “litany of lapses,” including not declaring P37 million in lawyer’s fees in her net worth, purchasing a luxury car with public funds, manipulating judicial appointments, and pressuring judges to defy the administration.
“The listed litany of lapses committed by respondent Sereno is just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. Many, many more are shrouded in mystery,” Gadon said in the document.
“Court officials have been mum for fear of respondent Sereno, as they do not want to be wrapped within her wrath. These wrongdoings can only be unraveled through an investigation of a coequal body,” he said.
Sereno, according to Gadon, was untruthful when she deliberately excluded in her initial statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) the exorbitant lawyer’s fees amounting to P37 million from the Philippine government as part of a team of local private lawyers in the Piatco case.
This does not include “the amounts she received from the US law firms and the Manila International Airport Authority, for the same purpose.”
“To evade payment of appropriate taxes, respondent Sereno never reported this to the Bureau of Internal Revenue. Consequently, respondent Sereno never paid taxes for her extortionate attorney’s fees,” Gadon said.
He also alleged that Sereno repeatedly used her influence to manipulate judicial appointments, including “the short list of the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) to exclude then Solicitor General Francis H. Jardeleza, for personal and political reasons… and curtailing the President’s power to appoint him.”
Gadon said the Chief Justice used public funds to finance her “extravagant and lavish lifestyle” by ordering the purchase of a brand-new luxurious Toyota Land Cruiser 2017 worth P5 million as her personal vehicle, while her colleagues had to be content with cheaper models.
He also accused Sereno of staying in opulent hotels when attending conferences in the Philippines and abroad, and flying business or first class together with her staff and security.
“Sometime in 2016, respondent Sereno organized an international conference in Shangri-La Boracay and got herself billeted in the Presidential Villa, easily a P200,000-a-night room,” he said.
Sereno “obstructed justice by ordering the Muntinlupa City judges not to issue warrants of arrest” on drug charges against Sen. Leila de Lima, the lawyer said.
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