The House Committee on Justice has found one of the two impeachment complaints against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno sufficient in form and substance, despite the use of newspaper clippings as evidence.
At least 30 members of the committee voted in favor of the complaint filed by a certain Atty. Lorenzo Gadon, while 4 minority lawmakers said it was not sufficient in form.
The House panel, with the same vote, declared "sufficient in substance" the complaint, which accused Sereno of culpable violation of the Constitution, betrayal of public trust, corruption, and other high crimes.
Under the impeachment rules, a complaint is sufficient in form if the complainants "have personal knowledge and/or the allegations therein are based on authentic documents."
Impeachment complaints that fail to be sufficient in form and substance are junked by the House.
"All allegations in the Gadon complaint are based on newspaper clippings. I don't think that will qualify as personal knowledge," Bayan Muna Party-list Representative Carlos Isagani Zarate said during the hearing Wednesday.
"Newspaper clippings by any evidenciary standards cannot be considered authentic documents," Albay Representative Edcel Lagman added.
But House Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas said Gadon's complaint had enough evidence as at least 20 authentic documents from the Supreme Court were attached to the document.
Among the Supreme Court documents Gadon used were official lists of Sereno's travel expenses and appointment letters.
Cited were the Supreme Court's purchase of a P5.1 million luxury vehicle for the chief justice, and Sereno's discrepancies on her statement of assets liabilities and net worth (SALN), arising from her attorney's fees in the Piatco Case.
Dinagat Island Representative Kaka Bag-ao also questioned why the complaint was filed almost 2 weeks before the Supreme Court released the attached documents.
"Ang complaint ay finile noong August 2, 2017. Pero sa reference, yung order ng SC came out August 15. I'm just wondering how Atty. Gadon came out with a complaint on August 2 based on documents released on August 15?" Bag-ao told members of the House Justice Committee.
"Sigurado ako na karamihan ng sinabi niya ay hindi based on personal knowledge," Bag-ao added.
IN DEFENSE OF SERENO
Minority lawmakers who voted against the sufficiency in form argued that the complaint contains internal Supreme Court matters, with some already resolved and others still pending among the magistrates.
They also emphasized purchase and bullet-proofing of the Toyota Land Cruiser for the chief justice was approved by the Supreme Court en banc and cannot be considered illegal or impeachable.
It was also pointed out that Gadon can not impeach Sereno based on Sereno's alleged non-disclosure of her attorney's fees in the Piatco case because this happened way before she became Supreme Court chief justice.
"Bigyan natin ng pagkakataon ang Supreme Court na, based on their internal rules and procedures, kung meron mang administrative lapse, ay ma-correct ito without resorting to the impeachment process," said Rep. Zarate.
(Let's give the Supreme Court the chance to identify and correct administrative lapses without resorting to impeachment.)
DUTERTE, SERENO COMPLAINTS ARE 'DIFFERENT'
Akbayan Party-list Representative Tom Villarin cited how the same House committee junked the impeachment complaint against President Rodrigo Duterte last May after Magdalo Party-list Representative Gary Alejano admitted that his complaint was based on "open sources" considered by the body as "hearsay."
"Knowledge derived from secondary sources are considered as hearsay. If we go by our rules, these are all hearsay evidence," Villarin said.
But House Justice Committee chair Reynaldo Umali said the impeachment case against Duterte in May was "different" from the complaint against Sereno.
"In this particular case, we have a private complainant in the person of Atty. Gadon who did his homework. While he did not have personal knowledge, he appended in his complaints authentic records which were not present in the Alejano complaint," Umali said.
Sereno drew the ire of Duterte when she made a statement warrantless arrests, saying suspects should not be arrested without a warrant.
The President called the Chief Justice's remarks "dangerous" and having the potential to "promote anarchy," and went on to enumerate the legal bases for warrantless arrests.
Last August 11, Duterte also slammed Sereno for "interfering" in his campaign against illegal drugs and threatened to declare martial law.
House will now ask for the Chief Justice's written reply on the allegations against her, before they can determine whether or not the complaint has probable cause.
"Let the respondent herself explain why these complaints fail in terms of the acts therein constituting probable cause," said Umali.