House prepares to tackle Sereno impeach raps

RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 12 2017 08:42 PM

MANILA - Despite the onslaught of tropical depression 'Maring', the House of Representatives on Tuesday started preparing to tackle impeachment complaints against Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.

Oriental Mindoro Representative Reynaldo Umali, chair of the House justice committee, said he expects the panel to rule Wednesday whether or not the 2 complaints against Sereno are sufficient in form and substance.

"If it will not hurdle those 2 tests, it will be dismissed. If it does, we will now require the Chief Justice to answer or submit her answer to the 2 complaints, then we will join the 2 issues," he said.

"Thereafter, we will start with the impeachment proceeding, which is analogous to a preliminary investigation being conducted by the fiscals in criminal cases," he added.

Umali said a complaint is found sufficient in form if the complainants "have personal knowledge and or the allegations therein are based on authentic documents."

Meanwhile, a complaint is found sufficient in substance if the allegations were "acts committed that may or will constitute... a ground for impeachment, like for example culpable violation of the Constitution."

Umali said since the complaints have been referred to the panel, Sereno is now covered by the one-year immunity from further impeachment complaints.

"Tomorrow, the impeachment proceeding has been deemed initiated as of the time of referral because we have already complied with the requirement of filing and referral... This is now the bar to any other impeachment complaint to be filed against the Chief Justice and, in fact, against Andy Bautista kasi simultaneously referred to the committee," he said. 

He was making reference to the separate impeachment complaint filed against Commission on Elections Chairman Andres Bautista over allegations of keeping P1 billion in undeclared wealth and purported violations of the Data Privacy Act. 

Complainants, along with endorsers of the complaints, will be allowed to address lawmakers on Wednesday to make their case and answer questions from members of the committee. 

"'Yung mga endorser, they might have their own reasons for endorsing the impeachment complaint. I don't know, they are not the complainants... We will now find out from them the reasons," he said.

"If they have other proof or evidence that convinced them to endorse, it may be presented tomorrow when their times to explain why they are endorsing it," he added.

Sereno will only be compelled to answer if the complaints are found sufficient in form and substance, said Umali.

"After the answer, we will now proceed with the issue kung ano ba 'yung grounds, what acts would constitute as an impeachable offense based on the ground of, say, culpable violation of the Constitution, corruption, other high crimes, and finally, betrayal of public trust," he said.

Umali said it would be Sereno's call if she does not want to answer the allegations immediately, but that she is "most welcome" to appear during the hearing because it is her constitutional right to confront the witnesses.

"Her presence would give her that opportunity to question or raise issues about certain clarifications on some of the alleged acts committed, which are supposedly violative of the Constitution or would constitute a ground for impeachment," he said.

Witnesses will be called after the respondent has filed her answer, said Umali.

The lawmaker said the panel would make its decisions following substantial and exhaustive discussions.

"My yardstick has always been mahaba ang usapan and it's been established na 'yung discussion has been extensive enough for us to make a decision as chair of the committee. I will already butt in and try to get the votes of the members."

Separate complaints against Sereno were filed by Lorenzo Gadon, and the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) and the Vanguard of the Philippine Constitution.

Gadon told ABS-CBN News he continues to receive evidence he may use against Sereno and that he is asking the Supreme Court en banc to reverse the Judicial and Bar Council's (JBC) denial of his request for Sereno's psychiatric records. 

"Ang summary noon is about the car, lahat ng papeles sa kotse. 'Yung contracts ng mga consultants na ang pinakamataas binabayaran ng P250,000 a month. And itong contract na ito with an IT (information technology) expert, she must have already P10 million. 'Di ito dumaan sa en banc," he said.

"'Yung SALN (statement of assets, liabilities and net worth), 'di pa raw nila tapos na-[photocopy] kasi marami ring attachment. 'Yung travel, wala pa rin. Psychiatric report, nag-deny ang JBC, pinadalhan ako ng notice denying my request. I filed a motion for reconsideration to the en banc," he added.

Gadon's complaint alleges that Sereno failed to make truthful declarations in her SALN—the same allegation that led to the ouster of her predecessor, the late former Chief Justice Renato Corona.

He also accused Sereno of corruption over the alleged use of judiciary funds in the purchase of a new vehicle amounting to more than P5 million; alleged use of public funds to stay in expensive hotels when attending local and foreign conferences; flying on business or first class with her staff and security; and bringing a huge entourage of lawyers in her official foreign trips.

In a separate phone call, Luna told ABS-CBN News their camp is now briefing members and simulating taking questions from lawmakers. 

"Para bukas, just in case tawagin si Dante Jimenez and [Vanguard president Eligio) Mallari, we are prepared. 'Yung aming mga dokumento na certified by the Supreme Court, nasa record na ng House committee on justice, pero mga witnesses 'di pa bukas," he said.