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House panel finds sufficient ground to impeach Sereno

If at least a third of the members of the House of Representatives vote to affirm the justice panel's committee report, Sereno will be impeached. CSIS/CC BY-NC-SA

MANILA, Philippines (Update 2, 11:50 a.m.) — The House Committee on Justice, voting 25-2, found sufficient ground to impeach Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, who has been accused of culpable violation of the Constitution, corruption, other high crimes and betrayal of public trust.

This means the impeachment complaint filed by lawyer Larry Gadon and which the same panel found sufficient in form and substance on September 13 will move forward. The committee will also determine whether there is probable cause to impeach Sereno.

Those findings will be included in a committee report on the complaint.

Members of the House of Representatives will vote in plenary on whether to approve or reject the justice committee's report.

If at least a third of the members of the House — 98 of 292 members — vote to approve the committee report, this will then constitute the Articles of Impeachment and the chief justice is impeached.

The Articles of Impeachment will be transmitted to the Senate, which will try the case as an impeachment court.

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'Most charges not impeachable offenses'

Rep. Arlene "Kaka" Bag-ao (Dinagat Islands) argued before the panel that most of the charges against Sereno "are not really impeachable" offenses.

Bag-ao pointed out that among the charges against the chief justice is the purchase and use of a Toyota Land Cruiser as an official vehicle. Although government officials are prohibited from using luxury vehicles as official transport, Bag-ao said that top officials — including the chief justice — are exempted from the ban.

"If we go to the parking lot of Congress, we'll see so many Land Cruisers," she said in Filipino, again stressing that using an SUV is not an impeachable offense.

Gadon also wants Sereno impeached for traveling in Business Class, which the chief justice has said she is allowed to do under the Supreme Court Human Resource Manual.

Bag-ao said Gadon has admitted that "what is at issue with the chief justice taking business class is not legal but proprietary."

Bag-ao said that many of the grounds raised by Gadon do not mention particular provisions of the 1987 Constitution despite his accusing the chief justice of committing culpable violations of the constitution.

"Shouldn't we dismiss these allegations?"

Umali: We apply 'totality rule'

But Rep. Reynaldo Umali (Oriental Mindoro), who is panel chair, said that the complaint and the proceedings must move forward.

"[T]here is need for clarification and this is the reason why we are now at the level of determining whether there is sufficient ground not only for purposes of impeachment but to conduct further hearing as provided under our rules," he said before the committee voted.

He said the House panel will apply the "totality rule", suggesting the complaint should be evaluated as a whole and not by  particular allegations.

"Again, we apply the totality rule," he said, referencing the impeachment of Chief Justice Renato Corona in 2011.

"In fact, we did not go through the whole eight articles, we just limited ourselves to about two or three and we got the former chief justice convicted on just one ground," Umali said.

In May 2012, the Senate voted to convict Corona for betraying public trust and committing culpable violation of the Constitution for failing to accurately disclose his wealth in his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth.

"It may be pointless at this point to argue thereon," Umali said.

Alvarez: House will not rush complaint

House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez earlier said that the majority has more than enough numbers to send the complaint directly to the Senate but he wanted the House justice committee to deliberate on the bill.

"I want to be fair, and before we bring it there... before it is transmitted to the impeachment court, we have to be sure that the evidence will stand trial in an impeachment court,” he said in Filipino in a televised interview last month. 

READ: Point by point: Sereno answers impeachment complaint

 

This is a developing story.

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