MANILA, Philippines (5th UPDATE) - The House of Representatives, meeting in plenary on Monday night, voted to impeach Chief Justice Renato Corona, making him the first head of the Philippine judiciary to be impeached and put on trial.
After a House caucus that started Monday afternoon, a total of 188 congressmen signed the impeachment complaint accusing Corona of betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the Constitution.
The plenary ordered the House secretary-general to endorse the impeachment complaint to the Senate, where a trial will be held next year.
As of posting time, the session had already been suspended after an exchange of views between members of the House majority and minority.
Former Chief Justice Hilario Davide was also impeached in 2003, but was not put on trial.
Click here for summary of the impeachment complaint.
House Justice Committee Chairman Niel Tupas told ANC's Primetime on Monday night that the House had been working on impeaching Corona since last year.
Tupas said the draft impeachment complaint was finalized last week, and some members of the House justice committee helped him.
During the House majority caucus on Monday afternoon, Tupas said he presented the impeachment complaint against Corona for around 30 minutes. After the presentation, only 2 members of the coalition asked questions, but the overwhelming majority then asked to sign the complaint.
"We thought we'd [only] get 100, but we got 188 [signatures]," he said.
Tupas said they used 3 grounds to impeach Corona, with 8 articles.
Among the issues raised are Corona's failure to file his Statement of Assets and Liabilities and Net Worth, and the appointment of his wife to a government corporation despite it being prohibited since he was already in the Supreme Court.
Tupas said the first 3 articles in the impeachment complaint specifically center on the way Corona "voted in cases."
'Very strong case against the Chief Justice'
"These are serious, very serious allegations against the Chief Justice," he said. "We believe we have a very, very strong case against the Chief Justice."
Tupas said there were no instructions from the Palace to impeach Corona, claiming it was a purely House initiative.
He denied allegations that Malacañang threatened to hold back the pork barrel of lawmakers if they refused to sign the impeachment complaint. "No such thing, no blackmail. If you believe (complaint), then you sign."
"We believe we have a very, very strong case against the Chief Justice," he added.
However, he said they recently informed President Benigno Aquino III about their decision to impeach Corona, and "he [Aquino] said he'd support it."
Tupas described the impeachment of Corona as a move by the House to exercise its power to check on the judiciary, one of the checks and balances provided under the Constitution.
No more private complainants
Former Rep. Risa Hontiveros of Akbayan said she and several citizens were supposed to be private complainants to the impeachment move, but they decided against it and "adjusted" after "it became apparent they [congressmen] could gather enough votes to transmit it [articles impeachment] to the Senate directly."
Hontiveros said the private citizens "were content to just give our moral support."
She also denied allegations of an underhanded conspiracy against Corona. "There's no scheme [or] something operating in the shadows. Everything's out in the open."
Hontiveros said the impeachment complaint also discussed Corona's voting pattern on cases involving Arroyo. "Not only has he exhibited this voting pattern, but he alone among the justices has a close association with (Arroyo)."
She dismissed fears that Corona's impeachment will damage democracy. "He (Corona) overstates his situation as something akin to the possible destruction of democracy. For us, it's the opposite," she said.
Meanwhile, Malacañang distanced itself from the move to impeach Corona.
Deputy Presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said the Palace "is not privy to the discussions of the Liberal Party in the House".
"Until the President says something, that will be an independent move on the part of the Liberal Party," she said. -- with reports from Ira Pedrasa, abs-cbnNEWS.com; Ron Gagalac, ABS-CBN News; Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News ANC; dzMM