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Sereno impeachment hurdles first stage

Officials and members of the panel voted 30-4 to allow the complaint of lawyer Larry Gadon to proceed but trashed the other one by the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption in a vote of 28-5. The panel declared VACC’s complaint “insufficient in form.” The STAR / MIGUEL DE GUZMAN, File

MANILA, Philippines — One of the impeachment complaints against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno has been deemed “sufficient in form and substance” by the House committee on justice, which directed the chief magistrate to submit her reply within 10 days before the complaint could proceed.

Officials and members of the panel voted 30-4 to allow the complaint of lawyer Larry Gadon to proceed but trashed the other one by the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption in a vote of 28-5. The panel declared VACC’s complaint “insufficient in form.”

“The respondent shall answer the complaint within 10 days from receipt of said notice and serve the copy of the answer to the complainant,” panel chair Rep. Reynaldo Umali of Oriental Mindoro said.

“The committee shall immediately furnish the respondent with a copy of the resolution and/or verified complaint,” he said, adding that “no motion to dismiss will be entertained” while they are awaiting Sereno’s reply.

Reps. Alfredo Garbin Jr. and Eugene de Vera of party-list Ako Bicol and ABS, respectively, explained that the complaint filed by VACC failed to pass the basic verification process as required under House rules.

Specifically, VACC’s complaint failed the “personal knowledge” requirement, as well as to include “authentic records” from relevant authorities.

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House Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas of Ilocos Norte emphasized the panel would be “strict” in handling impeachment cases this time.

The Ilocos Norte congressman explained that they declared the impeachment complaint of Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano against President Duterte sufficient in form “out of liberality.” But from then on, the House leadership would stick to a rigid policy in handling impeachment complaints, he said.

Three Liberal Party members and one from Bayan Muna in the Umali committee tried vociferously yesterday to block the impeachment complaints against the chief magistrate – an appointee of the previous LP-led Aquino administration. Sereno received her appointment in 2012.

The opposition members in the committee who tried to have the complaint against Sereno junked were Reps. Tom Villarin of Akbayan (whose group is allied with the LP), Kaka Bag-ao of Dinagat Islands and Edcel Lagman of Albay.

The fourth was Rep. Carlos Zarate of party-list Bayan Muna, a lawyer by profession who ironically had been a vocal critic of the Aquino administration.

The opposition were unanimous in describing allegations against Sereno as “hearsay,” noting that newspaper clippings had been used as attachments in the impeachment complaints.

The complainants are calling for Sereno’s impeachment for culpable violation of the 1987 Constitution and betrayal of public trust.

Authentic, original

But administration lawmakers led by Fariñas cited the numerous “authentic” documents attached to Gadon’s complaint, including original copies provided by the Supreme Court itself.

“Let’s not be myopic on certain allegations. We’re looking at the complaint in totality. It’s substantiated, not necessarily by personal knowledge but by authentication. In that sense, there is basis and we can take judicial notice on that,” Umali told Zarate.

Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez has assured Sereno the House would treat her fairly when the time comes for her to face the committee. 

“I wouldn’t want everybody to think that we’ll be railroading the process just like what happened to the late chief justice Renato Corona. That’s why I’m giving it a chance in the committee on justice,” Alvarez said in an interview with CNN Philippines.

“I want to be fair,” the Davao del Norte congressman insisted. “If we really want the complaint to be endorsed by 200 congressmen, we can do that very easily. But we don’t want that because we will be the ones to prosecute that case in the impeachment court.”

He said he doesn’t want to preempt the justice committee of Umali, in whose panel the separate impeachment case against Commission on Elections chairman Andres Bautista would also be heard.

“I want the justice committee to scrutinize the evidence, so that we can all be convinced that there is really strong evidence before we send it to the Senate impeachment court for trial,” Alvarez maintained.

The Speaker clarified that his earlier pronouncements citing solid basis for Sereno’s impeachment were only his “personal opinion” as a lawyer. He said he raised such opinion because the complaint was accompanied by original SC documents.

Moreover, some magistrates had even offered to provide first-hand testimonies. 

“Now if they find out the evidence is weak, then frankly we will not go to the impeachment court. But if there is, then we will have no choice,” he pointed out.

It is in the Umali committee where all the attachments submitted by the complainants would be scrutinized, and where an impeachable official would be given the opportunity to defend himself before his case could be elevated to the plenary.

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