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House leaders want to defer impeach vote

Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and House Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas

Leaders of the House of Representatives want to defer voting on the articles of impeachment against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno until questions about the legitimacy of her appointment to the Supreme Court are resolved.

Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas told reporters on Tuesday that it would be prudent to wait for the Supreme Court to rule on the petition filed by the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) assailing the validity of Sereno’s
appointment.

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“That [impeachment process] will continue because those are separate [actions]. We will assume that her appointment is valid,” Alvarez said in a chance interview.

But to avoid mooting the impeachment proceedings, the 292-member chamber will bide its time until the tribunal has determined the legality of Sereno’s 2012 appointment.

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Otherwise, according to the Speaker, “if the Supreme Court grants the quo warranto [petition], that means the
appointment has been invalidated. So, who else can we
impeach? No one.”

Sereno has been accused of, among other offenses, failing to disclose her earnings, falsifying orders, using public funds to travel in extravagant style, manipulating the nomination of justices, and delaying action on petitions involving the retirement benefits of judges or the spouses of deceased judges.

Preparing for defense

For the camp of Sereno, her impeachment by the House is practically a foregone conclusion. The Chief Justice has, in fact, gone on indefinite leave to prepare for her defense in the Senate impeachment trial.

Fariñas said it might take the Supreme Court only a month to rule on the quo warranto petition.

“This is my view as chair of the committee on rules. If I see a serious challenge [to] the legitimacy of the officer in question, I will wait for the Supreme Court to make a decision,” he said.

Fariñas noted that once the House justice panel endorsed the articles of impeachment against Sereno for plenary approval after finding probable cause, there might not be enough time for the members to deliberate before the congressional break.

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The impeachment committee chaired by Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali is poised to take a vote on whether there is probable cause to impeach the Chief Justice on March 8.

Adjournment

Congress adjourns its session on March 24 and resumes on May 14.

“Under our rules, if we vote on it a day after tomorrow, March 8, then it will be transmitted to me [on] the committee on rules, and the committee on rules has 10 days to include it in the calendar of business. So that’s 10 session days. We have only seven remaining session days as of today,” Fariñas said.

So, he added, it would take at least until May 14 upon the resumption of session for the impeachment articles to be included in the House order of business.

Once the articles are tabled, the plenary has until Oct. 31 to deliberate on Sereno’s impeachment, Fariñas said.

Rally at House

Outside the House, hundreds of people from various sectors and political alliances gathered at the gates of the House of Representatives to throw their support behind Sereno.

Around 700 people—including lawyers, professionals, church people, women, students and representatives of farmers, fishermen and peasant groups—staged a rally to slam the “unjust” justice committee, which had been hearing the impeachment complaint against Sereno.

Spearheaded by the Coalition for Justice (CFJ), the groups said the case was a “baseless and oppressive act” to remove Sereno as the head of the judiciary.

‘One-side proceeding’

Pastor Caloy Diño, CFJ convener, slammed the political agenda behind the impeachment complaint.

“The case has no merits, but they keep on finding new ways to remove her from office,” Diño said in an interview. “There is no justice for the Chief Justice before the House justice committee. There is no due process.”

The coalition also lamented how the committee appeared to bend rules to ensure a “one-side proceeding.” It also slammed the “indications of a conspiracy,” allegedly between the House committee and certain justices of the Supreme Court.

Participants

Diño said the rally, dubbed “Martsang Bayan, CJ Ipaglaban,” was only the first of a series of protests to be held in support of Sereno.

Among the groups represented in the rally were Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, Movement Against Tyranny, Youth Act Now, The Silent Majority, The Prayer Battalion and Every Woman. Law groups, such as the National Union of People’s Lawyers and the University of the Philippines Law Student Government, also participated.

Also in attendance were representatives of the Makabayan bloc, particularly ACT Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio, Kabataan Rep. Sarah Elago, Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate and Anakpawis Rep. Ariel Casilao.

Spotted in the crowd as well was Jover Laurio, the woman behind the anti-Duterte website “Pinoy Ako Blog.”

Lawyer Josa Deinla, a spokesperson for Sereno, thanked the protesters for their support for the Chief Justice.

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TAGS: Maria Lourdes Sereno, OIffice of the Solicitor General, Pantaleon Alvarez, quo warranto petition, Rodolfo Fariñas, Sereno impeachment, Supreme Court
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