THERE is enough basis for the Senate to convict Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno if senator-judges give weight to the evidence rather than their political affiliations, an analyst said on Friday.
Antonio “Butch” Valdes said conceding that a Senate impeachment trial would be a question of numbers, not of principle, would discredit the process.
“If that is the case then they (senators) will be the ones who will destroy the process because as judges, they must be impartial and they should look at evidence rather than just political affiliation,” Valdes said in an interview.
The justice committee of the House of Representatives on Thursday found probable cause to impeach Sereno for corruption, betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the Constitution.
Valdes said the testimonies of Supreme Court associate justices during the House justice committee’s impeachment hearing helped strengthen the case against Sereno.
He cited the testimony of the justices regarding Sereno’s decision to bypass her fellow justices in major decisions such as appointments to court offices.
“They (justices) gave testimony about what was supposed to be decided en banc; she decided by herself, and made it look like it was en banc. That was bad faith and bad procedure,” Valdes said.
The testimony of a psychiatrist who assessed Sereno’s fitness also strengthened claims Sereno was unfit for the chief justice post.
“They can say that these allegations are not impeachable offenses, but when you put it all together, it is like one major offense; plus the result of the psychological examination [that]contributes to the fact that this person should not have been appointed chief justice,” Valdes pointed out.
Valdes even said the case against Sereno was stronger than that against the late Chief Justice Renato Corona, who was convicted by the Senate impeachment court in 2012 over alleged undeclared wealth.
Valdes also noted that many people in the judiciary were against Sereno. When Corona was facing impeachment, the judiciary and courts all over the country remained supportive of the chief justice, Valdes recalled.
This was despite the call of then president Benigno Aquino 3rd to the people to support Corona’s impeachment.
Valdes cautioned senators against the possible drawback of a Sereno acquittal, noting that majority of the people were expecting a conviction.
“So they (senators) must be careful in handling the Sereno’s impeachment trial,” he added.
Apart from impeachment, the chief justice is also facing a petition for quo warranto filed by the Office of the Solicitor General before the high tribunal, questioning Sereno’s qualification.
Political analyst Ramon Casiple warned of a crisis that could arise should Sereno be removed based on the petition.
Casiple in a separate interview said either of two types of crises could happen if senators insisted on the quo warranto petition: a constitutional crisis or a political crisis.
He said, Congress, particularly, the Senate, would not be happy if Sereno was removed based on the petition because it would mean their authority to try impeachable officials had been bypassed.
Casiple said it was the Senate, under the Constitution, that has the sole authority to try and decide all cases of impeachment.
But the political analyst said the administration should also watch out for the political crisis that could occur if the quo warranto petition succeeds.
He said the political opposition might use the issue and get the support of the people who would find the process baseless.
“They may succeed in removing the chief justice but they might also [start]a process that would isolate the administration,” said Casiple, executive director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform.
He said the President, whether the Palace liked it or not, would be accused of being behind a move bereft of constitutional basis, which could affect his popularity.
Casiple cited the case of former president Ferdinand Marcos whose popularity significantly suffered after he insisted that the high court approve the 1973 Constitution without undergoing a ratification process.
He said, Marcos, at the time, got what he wanted, but his government faced a 13-year rebellion and a “people power revolution” in the end.
‘Duterte not bullying Sereno’
President Duterte is not bullying the chief justice, Malacañang said on Friday, arguing that the top magistrate had “done magnificent job alienating her own colleagues” in the Supreme Court.
Palace spokesman Harry Roque Jr. made the statement after Sereno, facing an impeachment complaint in Congress, vowed not to bow down to intense pressure, harassment and bullying from “those in power.”
“Pagdating sa Presidente, hinahayaan niya ang proseso na umusad kasi nga, nasa Saligang Batas naman `yung prosesong iyan (When it comes to the President, he is allowing the process to move forward because the process is in accordance with the Constitution),” Roque said.
“Pero ang ayaw ko lang, `yung mga sinasabi niya lately na ang Presidente daw ang dahilan kung bakit siya pinapatalsik sa pwesto (What I don’t like is what she [Sereno] was saying lately that the President is the reason why she is being removed from office),” he added.
with CATHERINE S. VALENTE