THE justice committee of the House of Representatives has found probable cause to impeach Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.
Voting 38-2, the committee found the evidence presented during five months of hearings sufficient to try Sereno for corruption, betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the Constitution before a Senate impeachment court.
Rep. Eugene de Vera of ABS party-list and Deputy Speaker Gwen Garcia of Cebu moved for the finding of probable cause.
Only Representatives Arlene Bag-ao of Dinagat Islands and Jose Christopher Belmonte of Quezon City voted “no” to the charges contained in the impeachment complaint filed by lawyer Lorenzo Gadon.
The House panel, however, has yet to draft the Articles of Impeachment that will be sent to the Senate, whose members will sit as judges to either acquit or convict the chief justice.
Rep. Reynaldo Umali of Oriental Mindoro, the House justice panel chairman, said earlier on Thursday the vote would be on each charge contained in Gadon’s complaint, but this did not happen.
The committee is expected to send the Articles of Impeachment to a plenary vote within 10 days. The House has 60 days to decide whether or not to impeach the chief justice.
At least 98 members of the House plenary are needed to impeach or charge Sereno, the second chief justice to be ousted from office if convicted by the Senate, after the late Renato Corona in 2012.
SALNs, SUV, IT consultant
The House justice panel proceedings revealed that Sereno did not submit her SALNs from 1986 to 2006, during her tenure as a UP College of Law professor, to the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC)—the panel that screens judiciary applicants. The non-submission of SALNs is a violation of JBC rules.
Sereno was also found to have hired information technology consultant Helen Macasaet for P250,000 per month, and failed to declare two properties in Davao City and Bataan as well as income as government counsel in the case against NAIA Terminal 3 builder Philippine International Air Terminals Co. Inc.
“This Committee was able to unveil the misdeeds committed by the Chief Justice Sereno.
As we dug deeper for facts, we have even caused the Office of the Solicitor General to file a quo warranto case vs the Chief Justice. If not for this impeachment proceedings, we will not be aware of her misdeeds and violations of law,” Rep. Aurelio Gonzales of Pampanga, one of the 38 lawmakers who voted in favor of finding probable cause against the chief magistrate, said prior to casting his vote.
Gonzales was referring to the quo warranto petition filed by Solicitor General Jose Calida before the Supreme Court on Monday, seeking to invalidate Sereno’s appointment in August 2012 by President Benigno Aquino 3rd.
“Can the people still trust the Chief Justice after all that has been revealed here? Can the people still see the Supreme Court as a collegial body that is the last bastion of truth, justice and democracy when it is divided beyond repair? Can the public still accept its rulings as competent and consistent when dirty linens have been washed in public? The answer is a resounding no,” Rep. Anthony Bravo of Coop-Natcco party-list, who also voted yes, said.
Dinagat Island’s Bag-ao said the charges against Sereno did not warrant impeachment.
“The Committee hearings proved two things: that the justices resent the Chief Justice, and that she did not commit anything that is tantamount to violating the Constitution.
When there is no proof, it only means one thing: those are lies. Is there a probable cause to send this impeachment complaint to the Senate? None,” Bag-ao said in a statement, alluding to the Supreme Court justices who testified against Sereno during the House Justice panel deliberations.
‘Fight for judicial independence’
Speaking before the Philippine Women Judges Association on Thursday, Sereno said she wanted to go through the impeachment process and fight for an independent judiciary.
“As I must fight to have my day at the Senate impeachment court, this fight is a fight for judicial independence, for the right of every member of the Court to confront her accuser face-to-face in a trial-type proceeding,” she said in her speech.
“Anything less than an impeachment trial, considering that the House Committee on Justice has denied me my right to confront and cross-examine the witnesses and resource persons arraigned against me, is nothing but blatantly unfair.”
Sereno’s statements irked the president of the association, Associate Justice Teresita
Leonardo de Castro, who said the chief justice should know that a pending case in court – the quo warranto petition – must not be discussed in public.
De Castro was among those who testified against Sereno at the House.
“I’m very sorry that the Chief Justice has taken this opportunity to discuss a matter which is sub judice; we have given her all the courtesy…” de Castro told the audience.
WITH JOMAR CANLAS