House panel OKs 6 articles of impeachment vs Sereno

Delon Porcalla - The Philippine Star
House panel OKs 6 articles of impeachment vs Sereno

“We have made history here in defining the impeachment process in the House,” panel chairman Reynaldo Umali told his colleagues after the release of the 45-page committee report, along with the 56-page articles of impeachment. Michael Varcas

MANILA, Philippines — Voting 33-1, the House of Representatives’ committee on justice approved yesterday its report finding probable cause to impeach Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno as detailed in six articles of impeachment being readied for plenary approval and possible transmittal to the Senate.

“We have made history here in defining the impeachment process in the House,” panel chairman Reynaldo Umali told his colleagues after the release of the 45-page committee report, along with the 56-page articles of impeachment.

At Malacañang, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said “we leave the matter of the impeachment of the CJ wholly to the Congress, because that is a constitutional function of the House of Representatives.”   

Umali said they have prepared six articles of impeachment that would serve as a “foundation in prosecuting this impeachment case before the Senate, (sitting) as an impeachment court.”

“We have a very strong case. We are ready, willing and we have a very strong case against the Chief Justice,” Umali explained, citing Sereno’s infractions including culpable violation of the Constitution, corruption and betrayal of public trust.

The committee, he said, has “all the documentary and testimonial evidence” to impeach the chief magistrate.

Only Quezon City Rep. Christopher Belmonte of the Liberal Party (LP) dissented. Sereno was appointed SC justice in 2010 and chief magistrate in 2012 by then president Benigno Aquino III, an LP stalwart.

Sereno will serve as chief justice for 18 years, or until mid-2030 when she turns 70.

Umali told reporters the impeachment articles and the committee report would be sent today to the House committee on rules headed by Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas, who will have them calendared for consideration and approval by the 292-man House plenary.

He also disclosed that they are still in the process of forming the 11-man House prosecution team from a list of 40 lawyer-congressmen.

Former Senate president Juan Ponce Enrile has been tapped as “legal adviser” to the impeachment court.

“It’s ongoing (recruitment). We will go on a (Lenten) break and we will have all the time in the world to discuss this,” the administration lawmaker said.

The articles

The first article of impeachment holds Sereno culpable for violation of the 1987 Constitution and betrayal of public trust specifically for non-filing and non-disclosure of her sworn statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) for almost two decades.

After several hearings, the Umali committee concluded that Sereno misled the Judicial and Bar Council in 2010 when she claimed it was not possible to retrieve her SALNs from 1996 to 2006.

In the second article, Sereno was accused of corruption and betrayal of public trust for allegedly misusing P18 million in public funds for the purchase of a brand-new bulletproofed Toyota Land Cruiser.

Under the third article, Sereno was charged with arrogating unto herself the collegial nature and power of the 15-man Supreme Court by issuing resolutions and orders without the approval of the body.

The fourth article found her liable for deliberately and maliciously abusing her position as CJ and JBC ex officio chair by attempting to exclude former solicitor general Francis Jardeleza from the shortlist of nominees to the vacant SC post, among others.

The fifth article accuses Sereno of deliberately undermining and violating the principle of separation of powers among the three branches of government when she interfered in the investigation of the House on the misuse of tobacco excise tax funds by the Ilocos Norte government.

The last and sixth article accuses Sereno of betrayal of public trust by willfully and deliberately failing to comply with her oath of office through abuse of her discretionary powers.

Umali claimed that nowhere in the history of the judiciary has it been so divided, citing as proof the unprecedented move of the SC – or 13 of Sereno’s 14 colleagues – to force her to go on an indefinite leave.

“The situation of our SC today and the judiciary is turning from bad to worse,” he pointed out.

The House plenary – after receiving the committee report and the articles of impeachment – will have 60 session days to decide whether to send Sereno’s impeachment to the Senate for trial.

The decision was not surprising, according to some Roman Catholic bishops.

“That is expected with a House that has lost credibility and is just a rubber stamp,” Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo said.

“I am hoping that the Senate would be more independent and impartial,” he said.

“The approval is expected. The congressmen’s demeanor during the hearing said it all,” CBCP-public affairs committee (PAC) executive secretary Fr. Jerome Secillano said.

Sorsogon Bishop Arturo Bastes raised the same observation, noting that Congress has become a “lapdog” of the Duterte administration.  –  Alexis Romero, Evelyn Macairan

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