THE House Committee on Justice on Wednesday voted to send one of two impeachment complaints against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno to a vote on the floor of the chamber, bringing her closer to a trial in the Senate.
The justice panel, led by Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali, found the impeachment complaint of lawyer Lorenzo Gadon, which was endorsed by 25 congressmen on August 30, “sufficient in form and substance.”
Another complaint filed by the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) and Vanguard of the Philippine Constitution, endorsed by 16 lawmakers on September 4, was thrown out.
Gadon’s complaint accuses Sereno, the youngest person to be named chief justice, of the following:
• culpable violation of the Constitution for falsifying various documents, misdeclaring her statement of assets and liabilities and manipulating the screening of judiciary applicants at the Judicial and Bar Council;
• corruption, for using public funds to finance a “lavish lifestyle,” such as staying in posh hotels overseas and purchasing an expensive SUV as her service vehicle;
• other high crimes, for obstructing justice by instructing a Muntinlupa court not to issue a warrant of arrest against Sen. Leila de Lima on drug charges, failing to pay taxes on attorney’s fees and embellishing her credentials; and
• betrayal of public trust, for favoritism and acts usurping powers reserved to the en banc or the full Supreme Court, such the appointment of court personnel and allowing new staff to travel abroad.
Thirty lawmakers voted to approve the Gadon complaint, while only four —Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate, Akbayan Rep. Tom Villarin, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman and Dinagat Islands Rep. Arlene Bag-ao, opposed.
10 days to reply
The complaint won’t immediately reach the House plenary for voting, as Sereno has 10 days to answer the impeachment complaint.
House Majority Leader Rep. Rodolfo Farinas of Ilocos Norte defended the Gadon complaint, saying Gadon did not peddle hearsay as he possessed documents from the Supreme Court.
Coop-Nattco party-list Rep. Anthony Bravo, one of those who endorsed the Gadon complaint, said impeachment proceedings would give an opportunity for Sereno to defend herself against the allegations hurled against her.
“All government officials and employees, regardless of rank and title, are expected to conduct themselves in a manner that befits their status as public servants,” Bravo said.
The four lawmakers who opposed the ruling stressed that the allegations were mere hearsay, arguing that Gadon did not have personal knowledge of Sereno’s alleged offenses, and that newspaper articles and clippings were not official documents and therefore not enough basis for impeachment.
“If you read the complaint, there were probably administrative lapses committed by the Chief Justice, but these can be addressed by the Supreme Court en banc. If we stretch that to culpable violation of the Constitution, everyone can be impeached. I think there is a higher standard that should be followed,” Zarate said.
VACC complaint junked
Fariñas challenged the verification of the complaint filed by Dante Jimenez, VACC chairman and president, and Eligio Mallari of the Vanguard of the Philippine Constitution, saying it was deficient.
“The complainants are warned that if they come here they should follow the proper form [of verification],” he said.
This prompted a number of pro-impeachment congressmen to change their minds and object as well to the VACC/Vanguard complaint.
Twenty-eight House members voted against the VACC/Vanguard complaint being substantial in form while five voted in favor.
In a statement, Lagman likened the House supermajority to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, saying that the standard employed in the VACC/Vanguard complaint should also be used in the Gadon complaint, where the complainant supposedly had no personal knowledge of the allegations.
Jimenez and Mallari also accuse Sereno of undermining the powers of the full Supreme Court or en banc in the approval of foreign trips and appointments to various offices, among others.
Sereno names spokesman
The Chief Justice on Wednesday named a spokesman to answer the charges against her – lawyer Carlo Cruz, son of former Supreme Court Associate Justice Isagani Cruz, a graduate of San Beda College of Law.
“We will specify the bases of our disagreement in the answer that shall eventually be filed by the Chief Justice. These would include our concern that many of the allegations in the Gadon complaint are unsupported by evidence or rely mainly on hearsay consisting of newspaper clippings,” Cruz said in a statement.
“We further understand that the determinations of the House Committee appear to be inconsistent with its findings and actions in similar proceedings in the past. These shall be addressed as well in the answer to be filed,” he added.
Cruz said none of the allegations in the Gadon complaint were true.
“For this reason, we respectfully submit that the complaint cannot be considered sufficient in form and substance. None of the allegations rises to an impeachable offense. The complaint against her seems designed to maximize the political spectacle, with the goal of eroding her credibility through innuendo and malicious allegations. This is detrimental to the independence of the judiciary upon whom all citizens rely to defend their rights and to check any abuse,” the statement said.
“We maintain that Chief Justice Sereno has always lived a modest, god-fearing lifestyle. She has followed her oath of office and conducted herself with strict faithfulness to that oath. She has been among the foremost proponents of establishing a culture of modesty and respect for public funds in the Supreme Court. She has instituted reforms in the judiciary and has asserted and defended the independence of the judicial branch of government.”
WITH JOMAR CANLAS