Sereno impeachment just a matter of time – Lawmakers

Jess Diaz - The Philippine Star
Sereno impeachment just a matter of time â Lawmakers

At the rate things are going at the House of Representatives, the impeachment of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno by President Duterte’s congressmen-allies is just a matter of time. Malacañang Photo Bureau/Jay Morales, File

MANILA, Philippines — At the rate things are going at the House of Representatives, the impeachment of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno by President Duterte’s congressmen-allies is just a matter of time.

This is the prediction of leftist lawmakers who, together with colleagues from the “genuine opposition” group of Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, are opposing Sereno’s ouster.

Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate said yesterday that what happened at the committee on justice hearing on Wednesday was a portent of things to come for Sereno and her supporters.

Zarate said the committee, by a 26-2 vote, declared that there were “sufficient grounds” to proceed with the impeachment of the Chief Justice “without discussing in detail those very same grounds.”

“It now appears that the impeachment of the Chief Justice is certain and is just a matter of time,” Zarate said.

Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez has said he could get the support of as many as 200 of his colleagues – or twice the number required – to send the complaint against Sereno to the Senate for trial. 

The two who voted against declaring there was sufficient ground to impeach the Chief Justice were Jose Christopher Belmonte of Quezon City and Kaka Bag-ao of Dinagat Islands.

Several opposition and leftist congressmen participated in the discussions, but they could not vote since they are not members of the committee.

Reps. Antonio Tinio and France Castro of party-list Alliance of Concerned Teachers in a joint statement hinted that Alvarez and other administration allies have a “marching order” from President Duterte to impeach Sereno.

They said Wednesday’s hearing was “at the stage of determination of the sufficiency of the grounds, or whether they rise to the level of impeachable offenses.”

“However, the committee deliberately declined to discuss those very grounds in the complaint. The committee did not even entertain the letters of Chief Justice Sereno’s lawyers asserting the right to cross-examine and confront Gadon and his witnesses,” they said. 

They said what happened was “a clear scheme of railroading and the (House) leadership intends to hasten the proceedings as a marching order of President Duterte.”

They added that the ouster move against Sereno “is just one of the many dirty ploys by the Duterte administration to silence democracy.”

“He intends to demolish the Chief Justice as head of a co-equal branch of the government. And he also plans to impeach the ombudsman as his next target,” Tinio and Castro stressed.

They called on the people “to exercise vigilance and not be blinded by the scheme of President Duterte.”

The President earlier vowed to file impeachment charges against Sereno and Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales.

If he makes good his promise, his complaint against the Chief Justice would be barred, since the House is prohibited from entertaining another complaint once an impeachment process is started against an impeachable officer.

In the case of the ombudsman, he could still do so, since there is yet no complaint against her.

Former Negros Oriental representative Jacinto Paras and Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC), the group he belongs to, have been planning to file an impeachment case against Morales.

The ex-lawmaker is the same Duterte ally who has filed charges against overall Deputy Ombudsman Melchor Arthur Carandang and Sen. Risa Hontiveros. 

He and VACC are scheduled to make good their threat next week.

Senators from the Liberal Party (LP) warned yesterday the impeachment cases filed against perceived dissenters were dangerous for democratic institutions.

Sen. Francis Pangilinan, president of the LP, said the impeachment complaint filed against Sereno, the threats of President Duterte against Morales and his attacks on other officials were “disturbing developments that weaken our democracy and respect for the rule of law.”

He said instead of threatening to have Morales impeached, Duterte should cooperate with the ombudsman’s investigation into his alleged hidden bank accounts.

“Transparency and accountability should be the hallmark of this administration, as he promised the Filipino people,” he said.

Pangilinan earlier said the moves to oust Sereno and Morales were “all connected to pin down the opposition.”

Sen. Paolo Benigno Aquino IV found the attacks on the Supreme Court, Office of the Ombudsman and the Commission on Human Rights “alarming and unproductive.”

“Independent and unbiased institutions should not be attacked but encouraged,” Aquino said.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said threats on institutions such as the Supreme Court and the ombudsman are “a veiled attempt of the administration to consolidate power.”

“We must keep in mind that the Constitution has enough safeguards to discipline and go after erring officials. We should apply and follow the Constitution and the rule of law,” Drilon said.

The Senate has started drafting its impeachment rules in anticipation of the trial of Sereno in the chamber, Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III said yesterday.

Pimentel made the disclosure to reporters after the House of Representatives committee on justice found sufficient grounds in the impeachment complaint filed against Sereno.

“We’re preparing our impeachment rules – we have to,” Pimentel told reporters.

Pimentel, however, warned an impeachment trial will take up the time of the chamber and urgent pending bills will be among the first casualties.

“The lawmaking will be affected but we know that when we ran, we will wear two hats (lawmaker and judge),” he said.

He said he chided Speaker Alvarez for complaining that 200 bills from the House are languishing in the Senate.

“Now you’re giving us two impeachment cases, that (legislation) will really be affected,” he said.

Sereno meets SC employees

Sereno has met with leaders of employees’ unions in the judiciary in an apparent move to gather support as she faces impeachment proceedings before Congress.

It was Sereno who called for the meeting held last Thursday afternoon in her office, which was attended by officers of the Supreme Court Employees Association, an insider told The STAR.

The source said the SC chief did not specifically ask them to issue a manifesto of support for her as she braces for impeachment trial in the Senate.

“For us, it was a subtle way of asking for support. It was more of a dialogue where she reached out to us to know our concerns,” one of the participants bared.

“But we welcome her move to reach out to us and hear our concerns. She said she realized it’s time for her to reach out,” admitted the source, an officer of one of the unions who requested anonymity for lack of authority to speak for their organization.

Sereno, who held such a meeting only after five years in the top judicial post, discussed several issues with the employees’ unions.

The embattled SC chief vowed to open communication lines with the unions.

“She told us she would now remove her cordon. Anybody from us can see her anytime na daw,” the source revealed.

Sereno, according to the source, also blamed the SC’s Office of Administrative Services (OAS) for the delay in promotions of court staff seeking higher positions.

The Chief Justice was earlier accused by a fellow magistrate of delaying the filling of vacant ranking positions in the high court supposedly to wait for members of her staff to qualify for the posts.

“She blamed the OAS for not scheduling the promotions board meeting,” the source further bared.

Lastly, Sereno vowed that there would be no more delays in the release of benefits of court employees.

Sources said Sereno is also planning to meet with leaders of judges’ organizations, which have not expressed support for her amid the impeachment case.

Sereno’s move to meet court employees came after The STAR earlier reported that employees’ groups in the SC and appellate and lower courts have no plans to back Sereno in her ordeal and hold a similar “Black Monday” protest they had during the impeachment of the late chief justice Renato Corona in 2012.

At that time, SC employees even took time from their lunch breaks to march along Padre Faura street in black shirts and black armbands and covered the bronze statues of former chief justices Cayetano Arellano and Jose Abad Santos with black cloths to protest what they said was the “death of democracy.”

Judges’ organizations also have not expressed support for Sereno – unlike during Corona’s time when they issued manifesto of support and joined the Black Monday protest. With Paolo Romero, Edu Punay

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