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Palace hands off on Sereno impeachment

Malacañang yesterday distanced itself from the filing of an impeachment complaint against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno before the House of Representatives. SC PIO/Released, File

MANILA, Philippines - Malacañang yesterday distanced itself from the filing of an impeachment complaint against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno before the House of Representatives.

Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella stressed the separation of powers in the three branches of government.

“The executive branch respects the separation of powers, and being their co-equal, we recognize the exclusive power of the House of Representatives to initiate all cases of impeachment,” he said.

Abella said any citizen has the right to initiate an impeachment process by filing a verified complaint upon resolution or endorsement by any member of the House.

Presidential legal adviser Salvador Panelo said it would be up to the House to determine whether it will find credence or merit in the impeachment complaint.

“There are the provisions under the law on betrayal of public trust, corruption, culpable violation of the Constitution and high crimes…. So whether or not the grounds filed against Chief Justice Sereno are within these grounds, I suppose the House of Representatives should be the ones to determine,” Panelo said.

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The impeachment process against Sereno has already started, according to House Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas.

He said House secretary-general Cesar Pareja transmitted the complaint against Sereno to Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez shortly after it was filed on Wednesday.

Under the House impeachment rules, the Speaker has 10 days to send the complaint to the rules committee, which Fariñas chairs, for inclusion in the order of business and referral to the committee on justice for scrutiny.

The committee on justice has 60 days to conduct hearings and submit a report.

Twenty-five House members endorsed the complaint against Sereno, which was filed by lawyer Larry Gadon.

Alvarez met with the complainant and some of the endorsers in his office before Gadon filed his complaint with Pareja’s office.

Alvarez has said he would support Sereno’s impeachment for her supposed backing of justices of the Court of Appeals, whom House leaders had accused of meddling in the case of six detained Ilocos Norte provincial officers.

Some of the congressmen-endorsers have told journalists privately that the Speaker had asked them to endorse Gadon’s complaint.

They believe it is just a matter of time before the House impeaches Sereno.

“The question is, will the Senate as an impeachment court convict her,” one of them said.

Two endorsers said they hoped Sereno does not get impeached and convicted, as this would “cheapen and bastardize the sacred process of impeachment.”

“We also have the impeachment against Comelec (Commission on Elections) Chairman Andres Bautista,” one said.

Under the rules, an impeachment complaint requires the votes of one-third of all House members – or 98 of the 294 members – to send the petition to the Senate for trial.

Endorsers of the Gadon complaint said the House leadership could easily obtain the votes needed for senators to try Sereno.

If that happens, Sereno would be the second chief justice to be impeached and tried by the Senate in five years.

In 2012, senators convicted then chief justice Renato Corona for failing to declare some of his assets in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN).

This is also one of Gadon’s accusations against Sereno.

Poll watchdog group Kontra Daya also sees the indictment of Bautista.

Kontra Daya convenor Danilo Arao said Bautista wouldn’t be able to clear himself of all the charges against him.

“Evidence of Comelec Chair Andres Bautista’s negligence and incompetence is strong. We wonder where he got the idea that he can overcome impeachment case,” Arao said.

Citing the Dec. 28 findings of the National Privacy Commission (NPC) on the voter data breach controversy, Arao said Bautista was proven incompetent and negligent.

The NPC had recommended the criminal prosecution of Bautista for alleged “willful and intentional disregard of his duties as head of agency, which he should know or ought to know, is tantamount to gross negligence.”

Bautista allegedly failed to protect the privacy of millions of voter registration data in the “Comeleaks” controversy.

The “Comeleaks” is among the issues included in the impeachment case filed against Bautista at the House of Representatives.

No more independence

Detained Sen. Leila de Lima said the moves to impeach Sereno and other officials compromise the independence of the judiciary.

De Lima also mentioned President Duterte’s desire to remove Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales from office.

In a handwritten statement, De Lima aired her concern about the recent statements made by Duterte regarding how Sereno and Morales are supposedly engaged in selective justice.

By citing the pork barrel scam-related cases of former senators Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon Revilla Jr., De Lima said the President had a skewed definition of justice.

“Clearly, Duterte would prefer that suspects be given swift justice – but something tells me that, in the case of these two senators with whom he is obviously sympathetic, he would likely prefer that they be given their freedom despite the ongoing trial,” De Lima said.

According to De Lima, the statements of the President against Sereno and Morales were meant to eradicate the concept of independence in institutions like the Supreme Court and Office of the Ombudsman.

“Which is why he wants to hasten the removal from office of two women who dare to hold on to their independence, integrity and impartiality in the face of a President who expects and demands blind loyalty and kowtowing from everyone,” De Lima said.

She said the President also needs to divert attention from the major issues he should be addressing, such as his admission of his inability to solve the drug problem.

“There is, therefore, more than irony in the President’s complaint. There is an evil genius behind it. Clearly, he sees the writing on the wall: the day will come when he and his men will have to answer for their sins,” De Lima said. 

“When that day comes, he is making sure that the ombudsman and the judiciary are in his pocket. Until then, Duterte will use everything in his power to misdirect the people’s attention. But I refuse to be fooled. Mr. President, who are you to cry foul about selective justice?” – With Jess Diaz, Mayen Jaymalin, Marvin Sy, Paolo Romero

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