Impeachment trial of a chief justice redux


For a democratic country where the impeachment of a Supreme Court chief justice was once considered unthinkable, but happened anyway, it now appears more than likely that another episode similar to that is coming. We may again face in the near future the impeachment of a sitting chief justice by the House of Representatives, and her subsequent trial by the Senate.

These prospects loom on the horizon because two impeachment cases filed separately by two different complainants against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno have been quickly endorsed by the required number of House legislators. Second, perhaps more significant, these complaints as laid out by the complainants, appear to have solid basis in both the law and the facts.

Rep. Reynaldo Umali, chairman of the House committee on justice, sounded the alarm for CJ Sereno when he said this week that her “shaky leadership” of the High Court might have triggered the filing of the two impeachment complaints against her.

“Actually, when I browsed over the impeachment complaint, I could see the hand of the court itself,” Umali told the media.

It appears that five Supreme Court justices would come out to testify against the chief in Congress during the impeachment process. This indicates, said Umali, that Sereno’s problem may have started “within the court” itself.

Lorenzo Gadon, the lawyer who filed the second impeachment rap against her, was able to obtain important SC dossiers to back his allegations. The Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) filed the first. The group was able to get endorsements from 16 lawmakers.

“Attorney Gadon had the documents authenticated. All of those, or many allegations, emanated from the Supreme Court. These were filed and submitted to us,” Umali said.

It surprised Umali that the High Court allowed the release of the documents, suggesting a rift within the Supreme Court. On August 30, 25 members of the House of Representatives endorsed Gadon’s impeachment complaint against Sereno.
n the complaint, Gadon said Sereno committed betrayal of public trust over the “whimsical” and “excessive” purchase of the latest model of the Toyota Land Cruiser worth P5.1 million, and that she failed to declare “exorbitant lawyer’s fees” of $745,000 or P37 million in her SALN.

Umali has vowed to act swiftly on the impeachment cases. His committee will take up the two impeachment complaints on Wednesday, he said.

The handling by the House of the complaints against Sereno will hopefully be different, and fairer than the chamber’s proceedings on the impeachment complaint against former Chief Justice Renato Corona in 2010. At the time, the charges were railroaded by the House committee under a chairman who clearly wished only to obey the wishes of then President Benigno Aquino 3rd, who instigated that move.

That impeachment was heavily distrusted by the public because of the circus trial that ensued in the Senate. When it was subsequently exposed that Aquino bought the senators’ verdict with funds from his Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), public distrust in the impeachment proceedings became total.

This second time around, Congress, through both the House and the Senate, should take care that it does its duty under the Constitution justly and fairly. It should not forget that impeachment is the only means to remove a constitutional officer like CJ Sereno.

The rules, therefore, must be strictly followed. There should be no appearance of railroading the complaint through the sheer superiority of numbers in either House. Justice Sereno should be given full opportunity to defend herself against the charges.

When the time comes for an impeachment trial, as we expect, Congress should let the facts and arguments fall where they may. It should allow the majesty of Justice take its course and allow our people to regain their confidence in our constitutional system.


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