THE JUSTICE committee of the House of Representatives on Thursday found “sufficient grounds” to impeach Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno for corruption and other high crimes.

The vote came a day after President Rodrigo Duterte publicly backed the impeachment complaints against Sereno and Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, accusing them of corruption and being part of a plot to oust him through a probe into his alleged secret bank accounts.

A total of 25 lawmakers voted in favor of the complaint filed by lawyer Lorenzo Gadon, who accused Sereno of 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.

Gadon claimed Sereno used public funds to finance a “lavish lifestyle,” such as staying in posh hotels overseas and purchasing an expensive SUV as her service vehicle; and that she obstructed justice by instructing a Muntinlupa court not to issue a warrant of arrest against Sen. Leila de Lima on drug charges.

Also, Sereno supposedly failed to pay taxes on her attorney’s fees and embellished her credentials, practiced favoritism, and usurped powers reserved to the en banc or the full Supreme Court such as the appointment of

personnel and allowing newly hired staff to travel abroad.

The 25 who voted for the sufficiency of the complaint included Kabayan party-list Rep. Ron Salo, Makati City Rep. Luis Campos, 1-Ang Edukasyon party-list Rep. Salvador Belano, Jr., Iloilo Rep. Fernejel Biron, Antipolo Rep. Romeo Acop, Yacap party-list Rep. Benhur Lopez Jr., ABS party-list Rep. Eugene de Vera, Pampanga Rep. Aurelio Gonzales, Jr., Coop Natcco party-list Rep. Anthony Bravo, Sagip party-list Rep. Rodante Marcoleta, Capiz Rep. Fredenil Castro, Oriental Mindoro Rep. Doy Leachon, Pampanga Rep. Juan Pablo Bondoc and Leyte Rep. Vicente Veloso.

Also, Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas of Ilocos Norte, Misamis Occidental Rep. Henry Oaminal, Quezon City Rep. Vincent Crisologo, An Waray party-list Rep. Victoria Noel, Pangasinan Rep. Rose Marie Arenas, Iloilo Rep. Arthur Defensor, Jr., Zamboanga del Sur Rep. Divina Yu, Zamboanga Sibugay Rep. Ann Hofer, Cebu Rep. Gwendolyn Garcia, Kabayan party-list Rep. Harry Roque and Cavite Rep. Roy Loyola.

Only Rep. Jose Christopher Belmonte of Quezon City and Rep. Arlene “Kaka” Bag-ao of Dinagat Islands objected to sufficiency of the impeachment complaint.

Bag-ao claimed that Gadon himself, in his reply to Sereno’s answer to his complaint, admitted that most of his charges were not impeachable offenses.

“If we do not see any allegations sufficient to impeach the chief justice, then we do not need to go on the next hearing,” she said.

Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman said the justice committee, headed by Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali, put “the cart before the horse” after the “premature” vote.

Lawyer Josa Deinla, one of Sereno’s spokesmen, told reporters: “We are dismayed that the committee approved the motion for sufficiency of grounds on the impeachment complaint. We have repeatedly pushed for the dismissal of the complaint, because of the simple reason of no sufficient proof. It should not even be called impeachment offenses in the first place.”

“We are not engaging on speculations as to what will happen, even if they are saying that this is a numbers game. We have still faith in the House committee that when it comes to the plenary, they can see that the proceedings should be dismissed on the basis of law and evidence,” she added.

Deinla also slammed the decision of the committee to deny Sereno’s request for a cross-examination.

“[The committee] said it was not properly captioned, it didn’t look like a motion. On the mere basis of technicality, it was not taken up,” Deinla said.

“We respectfully disagree, because the House rules on impeachment expressly provide that there is such a right…the direct examination of the complainant should be followed by the right of the respondent to cross-examine the witnesses to be presented against her,” Deinla added.

After the determination of “sufficiency in grounds,” the committee will then determine if there is probable cause in November, when Congress resumes after a recess.