CHIEF Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno is concerned that the justice committee of the House of Representatives found “sufficient grounds” to impeach her without deliberating on the merits of the27 allegations against her, her counsels said in a statement sent to the House on Thursday night.
“It concerns us that the Committee arrived at this decision without deliberating upon the merits of each allegation. We did not see this in the hearing earlier, as the Committee elected to consider the complaint in its totality,” they said of the impeachment complaint of lawyer Larry Gadon.
“Gadon’s complaint has 27 allegations. If [yesterday’s] hearing was to determine sufficiency of grounds, then each charge should have been carefully weighed and measured to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion,” they said.
Justice Committee Chairman Reynaldo Umali said, however, that the panel was only at the stage of determining the sufficiency of grounds, and that discussions through another hearing would be held.
“Members of the Committee said that they would determine the sufficiency of each ground in later hearings. However, the Rules on Impeachment stipulate that a precondition to conducting hearings is the establishment of sufficiency of each ground. Hearings should not be a means to fish for the sufficiency of the grounds,” Sereno’s lawyers said.
Rep. Carlos Zarate of Bayan Muna also panned the “rushed” decision of the committee.
“What is happening here is the impeachment of no less than the Chief Justice, the head of a co-equal branch of government. Pag-usapan natin nang maayos. Hindi yung minamadali at ayaw pag-usapan at palalimin ang mga alegasyon laban sa kanya kung dapat nga siyang maimpeach,” Zarate said in a statement.
(…We should debate on this properly, not rushing into decisions and not digging deeper on the allegations against Sereno, if she really needs to be impeached.)
Lawmakers also criticized the committee on justice for not allowing Rep. Tom Villarin of Akbayan to voice his side on Thursday because, according to Umali, he was not a member of the committee.
“It is highly regrettable that we, fellow elected representatives of the people, were not allowed to speak our minds in opposition to the impeachment of the Chief Justice. While we acknowledge that non-committee members cannot cast their votes, tradition allows House members to at least express their opinion, in the spirit of being representatives to a democratic institution,” Villarin said.
“Ang nangyayari ay parang gusto pang busalan maging kaming mga kongresistang gusting malalim na pag-aralan ang mga alegasyon. Ang mamamayan mismo na nakasubaybay ay gusting malaman kung dapat nga bang ma impeach ang Punong Mahistrado batay sa mga isinampa laban sa kanya pero hindi iyon pinapansin ng mga miyembro ng komite na para bagang may hinahabol,” said Zarate.
(It seems like the congressmen who wants to dig deeper on the allegations are muzzled. The people who are tracking the impeachment proceedings wants to know if the Chief Justice should really be impeached based on the accusations filed against her, but this is ignored by the members of the committee who are rushing.)
Zarate added that if this would be the norm in the committee, the impeachment would be a certainty.
“With threats of impeachment proceedings against critics of the present administration, this precipitate process creates a chilling perception that impeachment is being used as a weapon of retaliation,” Zarate said.
However, Sereno’s lawyers remain optimistic despite the odds stacked against them.
“The vote was not unexpected. Congress, after all, is a numbers game. But the truth is not a numbers game. Justice is not a numbers game. The Chief Justice remains confident that, in the end, truth and justice will prevail,” her lawyers said.