THE protracted House justice committee hearings on the impeachment complaint against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno are becoming a national embarrassment.
If the goal of the hearings is to boost the credibility of the effort to remove Sereno from office, the threat of the justice committee chairman, Rep. Reynaldo Umali, to subpoena and arrest her certainly dragged that effort back to the ground.
It is perplexing why Umali’s committee is even holding marathon hearings on the complaint. True, the House rules on impeachment proceedings call for a hearing.
But the committee at this point should have enough basis to endorse the impeachment case to the Senate for trial. The fact is, committee members have found the complaint of lawyer Lorenzo Gadon sufficient in form, substance and grounds. The same rules thus state that, “The Committee, through the chairperson, may limit the period of examination and cross-examination.”
At this stage, given the “sufficient” form, substance and grounds of the complaint, the House committee is supposed to employ its “compulsory processes” to produce not only witnesses, but also documents and other related evidence.
That should be enough for a Senate impeachment trial, if the House proceedings are really akin to the preliminary investigation conducted by prosecutors in criminal cases, where the parties involved merely exchange affidavits and replies.
The insistence by some committee members for Gadon to prove “personal knowledge” of Sereno’s offenses is likewise perplexing. There is, in fact, no shortage of documents to prove Gadon’s claims, (although not all the allegations deal with impeachable offenses).
For instance, Sereno’s efforts to block the Supreme Court nomination of the now Associate Justice Francis Jardeleza is well-documented; so is her attempt to impose a clustering scheme on judicial appointments.
In the latter case, Sereno was rebuffed by her very own colleagues when the high tribunal declared the clustering scheme unconstitutional. The court decision is available to the public.
Another odd piece doesn’t seem to fit: how the members of the House panel have become sticklers for impeachment rules.
Many of these congressmen did not find it necessary to compel the attendance of witnesses and ascertain the personal knowledge of the complainants six years ago, when they impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona.
In fact, there were no marathon hearings at the committee level; it was a blitzkrieg ordered by Liberal Party bosses who wanted Corona out at all costs.
In December 2011, 188 congressmen voted, strictly on party lines and behind closed doors, to send a haphazardly compiled articles of impeachment against Corona to the Senate for trial, in the process lowering the bar for the removal of impeachable officers.
After the blatantly political impeachment and conviction of Corona, it has become easier to do the same for Sereno, which is probably why Umali’s committee is taking great pains to justify itself.