MANILA - (UPDATE) Voting 25-2, the House justice committee on Thursday declared the impeachment complaint against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno sufficient in grounds.
The complaint, filed by lawyer Lorenzo Gadon, stemmed from several accusations including Sereno's alleged non-disclosure of the fees she got from the Piatco case in her 2010 SALN.
The 25 lawmakers who voted for moving the impeachment complaint are House Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas, Deputy Speakers Fredenil Castro and Gwen Garcia, and Representatives Victoria Isabel Noel, Luis Angel Campos, Divina Grace Yu, Salvador Belaro, Doy Leachon, Rosemarie Arenas, Henry Oaminal, Harry Roque, Ron Salo, Ferjenel Biron, Romeo Acop, Benhur Lopez, Eugene Michael de Vera, Arthur Defensor, Anne Hofer, Roy Loyola, Vincent Crisologo, Vicente Veloso, Rodante Marcoleta, Anthony Bravo , Aurelio Gonzales, and Rimpy Bondoc.
The 2 who voted against are Representatives Kit Belmonte and Kaka Bag-ao.
Gadon welcomed the committee's ruling and reiterated his call for the Chief Justice to step down.
"This development has demonstrated the fact that the case is strong and that the arguments of the Sereno camp are weak. I am very positive that impeachment complaint will be transmitted to the Senate soon with overwhelming votes by the members of the House in a plenary voting," he said.
"I strongly suggest that CJ (Chief Justice) Sereno resign before the trial begins, to preserve her dignity and avoid the embarrassment and humiliation of the trial," he added.
If Sereno will insist on staying in her post, she should sign a bank waiver, Gadon said.
"If CJ (Chief Justice) Sereno will not resign, I challenge her to issue a bank waiver on secrecy of deposits. This is an issue which they refuse and fail to address," he said.
Meanwhile, lawyer Josa Deinla, spokesperson of Sereno's defense team, expressed dismay over the committee findings.
"Dismayado na kami na inaprubahan yung pagtingin na sufficient ang grounds sa impeachment complaint dahil paulit-ulit naming gingigiit yung panawagan na dapat ibasura ito sa simpleng dahilan na walang sapat na batayan at di nga sapat na tawaging impeachable offenses yung mga alegasyon ng complainant," Deinla said.
Another spokesperson of Sereno, lawyer Jojo Lacanilao, said they hope that the panel will look at the substantive issues they raised in their 2 letters asserting the Chief Justice's right to confront her accusers and her right to counsel.
The Committee has not taken action after there were criticisms raised by Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas that the letters were not in the proper format of a motion.
Sereno earlier sought the House panel's approval for her lawyers to cross-examine the witnesses in the impeachment complaint against her.
But House Justice Committee Chair Reynaldo Umali said lawmakers are still looking at the possibility of allowing the Chief Justice to conduct the cross-examination herself.
Meanwhile, lawmakers sympathetic to the Chief Justice criticized the committee on justice for ruling on sufficiency of the grounds without proper discussions.
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate scored the House Justice Committee, saying the impeachment complaint against Sereno seems to be fast-tracked.
"What is happening here is the impeachment of no less than the Chief Justice, the head of a co-equal branch of government. Pag-usapan natin nang maayos. Hindi yung minamadali at ayaw pag-usapan at palalimin ang mga alegasyon laban sa kanya kung dapat nga siyang maimpeach," Zarate said.
Gabriela Women's Party-list Rep. Arlene Brosas meawhile called the committee hearing a display of the Duterte administration's "political arm-twisting and bullying."
"The House Committee on Justice put the cart before the horse when it precipitately and prematurely voted that there are sufficient grounds for the impeachment of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno based on the pleadings even before any discussion was conducted on the alleged grounds," Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman said.
Akbayan Rep. Tom Villarin lamented how lawmakers who were non-members of the House Justice Committee were barred from speaking out earlier.
"It is highly regrettable that we, fellow elected representatives of the people, were not allowed to speak our minds in opposition to the impeachment of the Chief Justice," he said.
"While we acknowledge that non-committee members cannot cast their votes, tradition allows House members to at least express their opinion, in the spirit of being representatives to a democratic institution," he added.
Under House rules, only committee members may vote in committee proceedings. They may also be disallowed from speaking in committees where they are not members.
"We have been very, very liberal. The chair was quite liberal in allowing them to speak. Sinabi nga ni Majority [Leader Rodolfo Fariñas] strictly pwede i-disallow sila. This is not legislative work," Umali said.
The House panel previously found Gadon's impeachment complaints against Sereno sufficient in form and substance, despite the use of newspaper clippings as evidence.
The lawmakers will now proceed on the determination of probable cause of the impeachment complaint. -with reports from RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News