Senate gears up for Sereno impeach trial

Vivienne Gulla, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 27 2018 07:06 PM

Chief Justice Lourdes Sereno answers questions during her guesting at ABS-CBN's The Bottomline on February 23, 2018. Gigie Cruz, ABS-CBN News

MANILA- Preparations for Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno's possible impeachment trial at the Senate are already underway, Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III said Tuesday. 

This even as lawmakers at the House of Representatives have yet to decide whether or not the impeachment complaint against Sereno has probable cause.

Senate President Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III said he has already begun addressing logistical concerns in relation to the possible impeachment trial.

"Ang Senate ngayon is in preparation mode. Yesterday, I authorized that we should order robes. Our lawyers are finalizing our impeachment rules. I've asked them also to study the layout for trial. Nagre-ready na po tayo. Mabuti na 'yung anticipating tayo," he told reporters on Tuesday.

If impeached at the House of Representatives, Sereno will be the second chief magistrate to face an impeachment trial after her predecessor, the late Renato Corona.

Sereno's camp had previously said the Chief Justice "looks forward" to her impeachment trial at the Senate as she is counting on the chamber for fairness.

The House Committee on Justice on Tuesday wrapped up its hearings on the impeachment complaint that lawyer Lorenzo Gadon filed against Sereno and is set to vote on probable cause next week.

Senators Panfilo Lacson and Antonio Trillanes IV also said the top magistrate would likely face an impeachment trial.

"It's just a matter of time before the vote in the committee and eventually sa plenary. Then after that, ita-transmit na sa amin. Kung makakakuha ng 1/3, e nakita natin ang proceedings doon, mukhang doon (impeachment trial) papunta," Lacson said.

"Kung hindi kasi nila iakyat, mapapahiya sila eh. Na para saan 'yung mga hearings na 'yun, parang circus lang ang mangyayari. Obligado na silang i-akyat ito dito," Trillanes added.

If the Senate receives the impeachment complaint next month, Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III said he expects the chamber to convene as an impeachment court in May to discuss the procedures and send summons.

Sotto, however, noted that trial would likely begin during the last week of July, after the President's State of the Nation Address. 

The second session of the 17th Congress is set to adjourn on June 2, and the third session will open in July.

"We will need a few days to convene as an impeachment court," he said. 

Sereno's camp said the chief magistrate is set to go on a "wellness leave" starting Thursday, March 1, to prepare for the possible impeachment trial.

Sources at the Supreme Court, however, said the high court en banc forced the top magistrate to go on indefinite leave as she faced impeachment proceedings. 

Lacson said Sereno has the right to take a wellness leave since she should prepare her defense before the impeachment court.

"Kung wellness or regular leave, karapatan naman niya. Very tedious process din at kailangan paghandaan ang depensa sa Senado. Di pwedeng i-assume na madali lang ang pagdadaanan niya rito," Lacson said.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, meanwhile, lamented the supposed "infighting" among High Court magistrates. 

"I don't feel good about this. I feel sad at the state of things; the fight between the justices becomes part of the public domain. I've been a lawyer for almost 50 years and this is the first time that I witnessed this kind of happening in the Supreme Court," he said.