Palace on Sereno impeachment: Let the process continue
(The Philippine Star) - November 7, 2017 - 4:00pm

MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang will just let the impeachment process against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno take its course after she refused to heed the Palace’s call for her to resign.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said yesterday it would now be up to Congress to deal with the complaint against Sereno, filed by a lawyer who has accused her of betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the Constitution.

“That’s fine. That’s her answer and we let it be from now on. The suggestion was made to resign so that the constitutional process of impeachment will not have to continue,” Roque said in a press briefing yesterday. 

“But since she refused, we will now let the constitutional process continue to proceed. Henceforth, that’s the call of the House and that’s the call of the Senate,” he added.

Sereno is facing an impeachment complaint for supposedly failing to declare the P37-million professional fee she received as a private lawyer who represented the government in its case against the Philippine International Air Terminals Co. (Piatco), builder of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3.

The complaint, filed by lawyer Lorenzo Gadon, also cited her supposed extravagant spending of judicial funds, especially her purchasing a P5-million Toyota Land Cruiser, traveling first-class and staying in expensive hotels.

It also included Sereno’s order in 2012 to reopen a regional constitutional administrative office (RCAO) in Cebu without collegial approval of the Court. The SC later revoked the order.

Gadon’s complaint also cited the Chief Justice’s alleged inactions on applications for survivorship benefits of spouses of justices and judges and on filling vacancies in key posts in the judiciary, supposedly to wait for members of her staff to qualify.

Sereno, through her lawyers, has denied the allegations.

Last Monday, Roque said Sereno should just quit to spare the Supreme Court from “further damage.”

The presidential spokesman said the judiciary might not survive another removal of a chief justice through impeachment.

Sereno’s predecessor Renato Corona was impeached and subsequently ousted in 2012 for failing to disclose his peso and dollar accounts in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN).

Roque also denied that his remarks against Sereno would erode the independence of the judiciary.

Last month, Duterte alleged that Sereno allowed herself to be used by political forces who want to oust him.

But Roque said there is no need for Duterte to file an impeachment complaint against Sereno and Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, the latter accused by the President of “selective justice.”

“Well, he doesn’t really have to file an impeachment complaint against either because I think other individuals have done it for him. And there can only be one impeachment complaint per year,” Roque said.

“So we know that the impeachment against the Chief Justice is now being deliberated upon by the committee on justice… So henceforth, our position will be, let the process continue. Let the House take care of the impeachment complaint and after that, we’ll see if it could reach the Senate,” he added.

Quit call seconded

Gadon, meanwhile, issued a statement voicing support for the call of the Palace for Sereno to resign.

He said he agreed with the position of Roque that Sereno should just quit and spare herself from getting impeached.

“Roque knows the case very well, having been a member of the House justice committee who has gone over the records of the complaint and who has voted in the findings of sufficiency of form and substance as well as sufficiency of grounds,” he stressed in a statement.

“Being a respected academician and law professor and a legal expert Spox Roque definitely knows what he is saying. He knows that Sereno will be impeached in the end,” Gadon said.

He pointed out that the Palace call for Sereno’s resignation no longer came as a surprise as President Duterte himself has publicly supported his complaint.

“The President himself, in a few public appearances, has even disclosed his own desire to file an impeachment case against CJ Sereno,” he recalled.

The lawyer believed Sereno’s camp is now in “panic mode utilizing media propaganda through bogus organizations of dubious origin and without any credibility being run by anonymous people who are obvious propaganda operators.”

“They even go to the extent of naming personalities and their alleged motives behind the impeachment which are all baseless and unfounded, considering the strength of the grounds and evidence,” he said.

“Filing an impeachment complaint is not about motives, but rather about constitutional right of anyone who feels that our Constitution was blatantly violated,” Gadon said.

Weak case

For the Sereno camp, the resignation call was premature and proof of a weak case against the Chief Justice.

Lawyer Josa Deinla, one of Sereno’s spokespersons, stressed that Roque’s statements validated their position that the allegations against the SC chief were baseless and would not stand scrutiny in the impeachment proceedings.

“We view this resignation call – instead of allowing the process to proceed – as a strong indication that the impeachment case filed against the Chief Justice is weak,” she said in a statement.

“The public knows that the allegations against CJ Sereno are malicious and baseless. These are not even grounds for impeachment under our Constitution,” she said.

Deinla also rebutted Roque’s claim that Sereno’s resignation would “spare the institution from any further damage.”

“CJ Sereno is not the one destroying the institution; she’s even the one leading reforms in the judicial system so the people will see that justice is running well in this country. It is clear that there are forces out to destroy the entire Supreme Court and not just the Chief Justice,” she said.

“At any rate, attorney Roque’s statements are premature and misdirected as it is the Chief Justice’s accusers who are inflicting damage to the Supreme Court. The Chief Justice remains unfazed by the false accusations against her and is as resolved as ever to keep serving the people at the helm of the judiciary,” she added. 

The House committee on justice has found the complaint sufficient in form and substance. It is set to start hearing on issues raised against the Chief Justice on Nov. 20 to determine if there is probable cause to transmit the case to the Senate for trial.

Weakness

Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV also chided Malacañang for pressuring Sereno to resign, saying the action showed the administration has no case against her.

“I believe that kind of statement (resignation call) is a sign of weakness of evidence,” the senator told reporters at the Kapihan sa Senado forum.  

“If they think their evidence is strong, then continue with the impeachment and bring the case to the Senate and let the senators decide,” he said.

He believed it was improper for Roque to make such a call, as the two had a “history” and “quarrels” when they were both still studying at the University of the Philippines.

“It’s personal,” he said, referring to the exchanges between Roque and Sereno’s camp.

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

Senators from the Liberal Party (LP) warned the impeachment cases filed against Sereno and other 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 Ombudsman 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.”

“This is because some in the administration cannot accept comments and criticisms, and probably want us to be under a dictatorship,” he said after the House committee on justice found sufficient ground to impeach Sereno.     –  With Paolo Romero

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