IT’S interesting to watch congressmen massaging back to life what looks like a dead impeachment horse just so they could press the ouster of Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno for alleged culpable violation of the Constitution and other high crimes.
After rejecting an impeachment case filed by a pair of citizens’ groups for being insufficient in form, the House of Representatives committee on justice has found that the accuser in another complaint did not have personal knowledge of the charges he had raised against Sereno.
An accuser’s not having personal knowledge of his own complaints and lacking supporting documents would have killed the case, but the panel, declaring itself as having evolved into an “impeachment committee,” would not let go.
The committee chaired by Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali announced it would gather on its own the supporting documents to pursue the complaint against the Chief Justice.
We were among those who believed that a more qualified senior justice, and not an outsider like Sereno who was never a judge, should have been installed as Chief Justice in August 2012. But we think that having been appointed, she is now entitled to the protection and privileges pertaining to her office.
We are disturbed seeing the Chief Justice, head of one department of the tripartite government, being subjected to what looks like political harassment by a co-equal branch. Using impeachment threats to hound a targeted official trivializes the process.
The impeachment process provided in the Constitution under Article XI (Accountability of Public Officers) should neither be taken lightly nor wielded whimsically.
Article XI holds that the President, the Vice President, the members of the Supreme Court, the members of Constitutional Commissions, and the Ombudsman may be removed from office through impeachment upon conviction of treason, bribery, graft and corruption, other high crimes or betrayal of public trust.
We were appalled by the admission of complainant Larry Gadon, a Duterte Youth lawyer and defeated senatorial candidate, that he had no personal knowledge of the impeachable acts allegedly committed by Sereno, and that he had no supporting documents.
The Umali committee’s building up the case on its own conjures up a spectacle of the group massaging back to life a virtually dead impeachment horse.
• Recap of impeachment issues
TO HELP us review the issues raised by Gadon, we run below a summary made recently by PhilStar:
Gadon: Sereno committed culpable violation of Constitution when she “falsified Supreme Court resolutions and temporary restraining order.”
Sereno’s lawyers: The Chief Justice cannot “falsify” her own notes. And poor note-taking (assuming, although this is denied) does not amount to a “culpable violation of the Constitution.”
Gadon: Sereno committed culpable violation of the Constitution when she “delayed action on petitions for retirement benefits of justices, judges and surviving spouses.”
Sereno lawyers: Changes in procedures were adopted to ensure prompt action on applications, and consistent rulings and grants. The new system improved the efficiency and consistency in processing of petitions for retirement benefits.
Gadon: Sereno committed culpable violation of the Constitution when she “failed to truthfully disclose her Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth.”
Sereno lawyers: She declared all the fees received in her income tax returns for 2004 to 2009, and paid the corresponding taxes. All assets and investments bought or acquired from the remainder of these fees are truthfully reflected in her SALNs.
Gadon: Sereno committed culpable violation of the Constitution when she “manipulated the Judicial and Bar Council and its shortlists.”
Sereno lawyers: “The Chief Justice, as JBC member and ex officio chairman, is entitled to her own opinion on the qualifications of an applicant. Expressing her opinion within JBC rules cannot be a violation of the Constitution, much less one which is culpable.
Gadon: Sereno committed corruption when she “ordered the purchase of Land Cruiser 2017 as her personal vehicle,” costing more than P5 million.
Sereno lawyers: The Supreme Court en banc, in a resolution dated March 28, 2017, approved the Land Cruiser purchase for P5,110,500 to ensure the safety and security of the Chief Justice.
Gadon: Sereno committed corruption when she “used public funds to stay in opulent hotels (Presidential Villa in Boracay).”
Sereno lawyers: No fee, in addition to what had been paid for the “Room Block” of which the “Presidential Villa” was already part, was charged and paid by the Supreme Court for the use of the villa during the 3rd ASEAN Chief Justices Meeting.
Gadon: Sereno committed corruption when she took “business of first class [flights] together with her staff and security.”
Sereno lawyers: The Chief Justice never brought with her “a huge entourage” of lawyers in her trips abroad. She brought only such number of lawyers as were necessary to assist her, given the nature and objective of the official trip.
Gadon: Sereno committed other high crimes when she “obstructed justice” by ordering Muntinlupa judges not to issue warrants of arrest against Sen. Leila M. de Lima.
Sereno lawyers: This is a lie. The Chief Justice never spoke to any of the three judges on the matter, and neither did she instruct any Supreme Court official to instruct the judges to not issue a warrant of arrest.
Gadon: Sereno betrayed the public trust when she “sent a strongly-worded but misplaced reply to President Rodrigo Duterte on the judges linked to drugs, thereby inviting a collision between the Presidency and the Judiciary.”
Sereno lawyers: “The letter not only demonstrated the Chief Justice’s concern for all members of the Judiciary (including those accused of involvement in illegal drugs), but also her willingness, through the SC’s power of administrative supervision over lower courts, to cooperate and work with the President in his campaign against illegal drugs.”
Gadon: Sereno betrayed public trust when she “attacked the imposition of Martial Law” in a commencement address, while the validity of ML was pending before the Supreme Court, and later participated in the court’s deliberations.”
Sereno lawyers: “Read in its proper setting and context, the Chief Justice’s address was far from an attack on President Duterte’s ML declaration. (It) was an exercise of the Chief Justice’s right of free speech on a matter of public interest and history.”