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Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali next justice secretary?

A source floated this possibility yesterday, saying Umali could be considered to replace Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II who is expected to run for senator in the 2019 midterm elections. AP/Aaron Favila, File

MANILA, Philippines — Will House justice committee chair and Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali be the next secretary of justice?

A source floated this possibility yesterday, saying Umali could be considered to replace Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II who is expected to run for senator in the 2019 midterm elections.

Umali currently heads the House panel hearing the impeachment charges against Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno.

The group Pinoy Aksyon for Governance and Environment (PAGE) believes that the appointment of Umali as a reward for the imminent impeachment of Sereno is not far-fetched.

“Could it be that something is brewing in the political kettle? If this is true, the chairman of the House justice committee could be going after the fat reward as head of the powerful Department of Justice,” PAGE conveyor Bencyrus Ellorin alleged.

Ellorin cited Umali’s actions in the impeachment proceedings to allegedly aid the weak case against Sereno.

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He said the lawmaker has been trying hard to justify the continued hearing of the “intrinsically weak and baseless” impeachment complaint filed by lawyer Lorenzo Gadon.

“It is a difficult act. To start with, they have a bungling complainant in lawyer Lorenzo Gadon, they have hauled magistrates of the high court to provide bits and pieces to Gadon’s nuisance complaint,” the PAGE leader alleged.

Ellorin recalled how Umali prodded Aguirre during earlier hearings to implicate Sereno for the supposed delays in the transfer of cases against arrested Maute members and supporters to a regional trial court in Metro Manila.

“Despite prodding from Umali and other members of the committee, Aguirre has not directly said that the delays in action to his request to transfer hearing of Maute/Islamic State cases from Cagayan de Oro to Manila constituted an impeachable offense; the justice secretary’s answers were not definite,” he stressed.

The House panel has already found sufficiency in form and substance and sufficiency in grounds in the impeachment case against Sereno. It will resume hearing this month for the determination of probable cause and to decide whether to file the case in the Senate as impeachment trial court.

Four Supreme Court justices – Associate Justices Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, Francis Jardeleza and Noel Tijam and retired Associate Justice Arturo Brion – have testified in the impeachment hearings at the House of Representatives.

Last month, The STAR reported that six more incumbent justices – Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and Associate Justices Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Mariano del Castillo, Samuel Martires and Andres Reyes Jr. – have also been invited by the House justice committee to appear in the hearings to answer various issues hurled against Sereno in the impeachment complaint filed by Gadon.

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