Wednesday , June 20, 2018

House panel finds probable cause to impeach Sereno

VOTING 38-2 on Thursday, March 8, the House committee on justice found probable cause to impeach Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno over alleged culpable violation of the Constitution, corruption, betrayal of public trust and other high crimes.

The justice panel voted on the existence of probable cause after five months of weekly hearings on the complaint filed by lawyer Lorenzo Gadon.

Voting against the majority are Quezon City Representative Jose Christopher "Kit" Belmonte and Dinagat Island Rep. Arlene "Kaka" Bag-ao.

House justice committee chair Reynaldo Umali tasked the technical working group comprised of the vice chairpersons of the committee to draft a committee report and the articles of impeachment.

He said the group will decide on what allegations they will include in the draft articles of impeachment.

The committee will vote on the draft report and articles of impeachment on March 14.

House Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas earlier said the justice panel will forward the report and articles of impeachment to the House committee on rules.

The rules committee, which he chairs, will then be given 10 session days to include the committee report in the calendar of business.

But since Congress is about to go on recess for the summer, Fariñas said the matter might be included in the calendar of business only when session resumes in May.

The earliest that the articles of impeachment against Sereno could be taken up in the plenary would be on May 14, he said.

Fariñas has also said that his committee will wait for the SC's ruling on the quo warranto petition filed by the Office of the Solicitor General to question the validity of Sereno's appointment.

If approved in the plenary, the articles of impeachment will then be elevated to the Senate for trial.

Umali, as chair of the justice panel, will be one of the 11 members of the panel of prosecutors that will present the case against Sereno to the Senate.

Other members of the panel have yet to be identified and their names submitted for approval by the plenary.

Shortened proceedings

Before the voting was conducted, Umali said every allegation against Sereno, more than 25 in all, would be voted upon one by one.

But this manner of voting did not push through during the proceedings. The members of the House panel voted only once after carrying the motion of Representative Salvador "Doy" Leachon to dispense with the presentation of the findings and proceed with the voting.

Leachon said the voting for each allegation will only be a repetition of what was already established during the previous hearings.

He said he believes that even before going to the hearing, each member already knew how will they vote. He also noted that whatever the committee's decision, it will still be subject to the scrutiny of members of the House.

Ako Bicol Rep. Alfredo Garbin, corroborating the motion, invoked Rule III Section 8 of the Rules of Procedure in Impeachment Proceedings.

The said rule states that: "If the Committee finds by a vote of the majority of all its Members that a probable cause exists, it shall submit with its report a resolution setting forth the Articles of Impeachment on the basis of the evidence adduced before the Committee. Otherwise, the complaint shall be dismissed subject to Section 11 of these Rules."

In a press conference after the deliberation, Umali said the panel shortened the proceedings because they will also vote next week on the draft committee report and the draft articles of impeachment.

"I think ang desire of the members is to abbreviate it by just voting once, after all, uulitin na naman ito pagdating... makikita naman nating lahat kung ano ang kalalabsan nung articles of impeachment so minarapat ng komite to just invoke the rule para isang botohan na lang," Umali said.

In a joint memorandum, Bag-ao and Belmonte said there is no probable cause to oust Sereno.

"During the proceedings in the hearings of probable cause with the justice committee, voluminous documemts and testimonies from dozens of witnesses were presented in compliance with the complusary processes issued," the lawmakers said.

"While there is great amount of information, rightfully or not rightfully shared, these were not materiel to the charges against the respondent," they added.

The two lawmakers said that what has been proven so far is that for the members of the Supreme Court, "it is difficult to get along with respondent Chief Justice."

Sereno has refused to attend the House justice committee hearings.

She earlier asked the House panel to allow her legal counsels to represent her and cross examine the witnesses against her on her behalf. The committee refused.

Among the allegations hurled against the Chief Justice under her supposed culpable violation of the Constitution offense are her supposed issuances of orders without the approval of the en banc, her delayed action on the petitions for retirement benefits and her failure to file her Statement of Assets Liabilities and Networth to the Judicial and Bar Council when she applied for her position in 2012.

Under the corruption allegation, the Chief Justice was accused of using public funds to support her alleged lavish lifestyle, including her purchase of a luxury vehicle worth more than P5 million and her P1.9 million worth of hotel accomodations during the Southeast Asian summit in 2015.

In the impeachable offense of corruption, Gadon accused Sereno of evading to pay her taxes from her earnings from the Piatco case. Under betrayal of public trust, her supposed hiring of an information technology (IT) consultant with P250,000 monthly fee without public bidding was cited.

A total of 25 lawmakers endorsed the complaint against the chief magistrate, among them were Deputy Speaker Gwendolyn Garcia, Samar Representative Edgar Sarmiento, COOP-NATCO party-list Representative Anthony Bravo, LPGMA party-list Representative Arnel Ty, Isabela Representative Rodolfo Albano, Surigao Del Norte Francisco Jose Matugas II, Pampanga Representative Aurelio Gonzales, Malabon Representative Federico Sandoval, Davao Oriental Representative Joel Almario, Antipolo City Representative Romeo Acop and Quezon City 1st District Representative Vincent Crisologo. (SunStar Philippines)