House panel OKs impeachment complaint vs Sereno, junks a second

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CJ Sereno ADMU commencement
Chief Justice Sereno.

MANILA, Philippines — (UPDATE 3 – 3:40 p.m.) The justice committee of the House of Representatives gave the green light to the impeachment complaint filed against Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno by lawyer Lorenzo Gadon but dismissed a second complaint on Tuesday, September 13.

The Gadon complaint was declared sufficient in form and substance despite objections that it was defective and did not present clear evidence of being impeachable offenses. The separate votes on the form and substance on the complaint yielded the same results, 30-4.

But the second complaint, filed by the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption’s Dante Jimenez and Eligio Mallari, was dismissed on a 5-28 vote after being found to insufficient in form due to a defective verification.

Gadon’s complaint alleged that Sereno committed betrayal of public trust, culpable violation of the Constitution, corruption and other high crimes.

(READ THE RULES ON IMPEACHMENT HERE: http://www.congress.gov.ph/download/docs/hrep.impeachment.rules.pdf)

The justice panel will issue a notice to the Chief Justice on the proceedings and ask her to respond within 10 calendar days.

Members of the House of Representatives’ justice committee rise to declare the impeachment complaint of lawyer Lorenzo Gadon against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno sufficient in form and substance. (photo by Boy Santos, PhilStar)

Lawmakers who claimed that the Gadon complaint was defective — Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, Dinagat Island Rep. Kaka Bag-ao, Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate, Akbayan Rep. Tom Villarin —  said Gadon did not have personal knowledge on some of the allegations put forward.  They also said there was no clear evidence on how the acts cited in the complaint could constitute impeachable offenses.

But committee chairman Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali said Gadon “did his homework” and obtained authentic records and certified true copies of the records from the Supreme Court.

Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas waved a pink sheet furnished by Gadon that he said contained the list of certified true copies of 20 Supreme Court documents pertinent to the Sereno complaint.

“We have here a notice of an en banc dated 15 August 2017 that upon the deliberation of the court, grants the request of Atty. Gadon and release to him the documents …These are certified true copies,” Farinas said.

Umali added that some of the allegations “may be substantiated, not necessarily by personal knowledge, but by authentic documents.”

“I think the complainant was able to secure authentic documents from the Supreme Court,” he said.

Zarate said the allegations of Gadon were “pure hearsay” as they were based on newspaper reports.

“I don’t think he has personal knowledge when for example, he alleged that there was manipulation of the JBC (Judicial and Bar Council).  These are all based on newspaper clippings, I don’t think Gadon was even present when these happened,” Zarate said.

Zarate and Lagman said that the justice committee should have applied the same stringent rules to the Gadon complaint as it did to the impeachment complaint filed by Magdalo party-list Rep. Gary Alejano against President Rodrigo Duterte in March.  The complaint was dismissed.

“What is good to liberate President Duterte should also be good to liberate the Chief Justice from the impeachment complaint,” Lagman said.

The veteran lawmaker also noted that despite the issuance of the high tribunal of the certified true copies of the documents to Gadon, some of them are “matters pending deliberation and determination” by the Supreme Court.

Zarate added that a number of the violations being alleged against the Chief Justice were administrative matters and are still being considered the Supreme Court.

Lawyer Lorenzo Gadon swears to the authenticity of his impeachment complaint against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno. (photo by Boy Santos, PhilStar)

“Why don’t we give the Supreme Court the chance based on their rules and procedures, to correct their own lapses without resorting to this proceeding like the impeachment,” Zarate said.

Zarate and Bag-ao also observed that many allegations did not specifically cite the particular provision of the Constitution that was violated.

Sa lahat ng (In all the) allegations, walang nabanggit na (there is no mention of a) particular provision ng (of the) Constitution na na-violate (violated),” Zarate said.

Villarin questioned the inclusion in the complaint of the legal fee received by Sereno before her stint as chief magistrate.

“Will it also be incumbent for the House members that you would be asked how much was your income before you became congressmen.  Does this fall under an impeachable offense?” he said.

In a statement, lawyer Carlo Cruz, Sereno’s spokesman for the impeachment, maintained that the complaints against Sereno were “designed to maximize the political spectacle, with the goal of eroding her credibility through innuendo and malicious allegations.”

“This is detrimental to the independence of the judiciary upon whom all citizens rely to defend their rights and to check any abuse,” he added.

Sereno, he added, “awaits the transmission of the complaints through official channels” and “will avail herself of appropriate legal remedies, with the hope that the mechanisms of our democratic system will afford her a fair, transparent and just opportunity to be heard.”

In the meantime, he said, “the Chief Justice continues to discharge her duties with fairness, integrity and humility.

The Gadon complaint alleges the following:

Acts constituting culpable violation of Constitution: 

  • She falsified the Resolution of the Supreme Court in A.M. No. 12-11-9-SC.
  • She falsified the Temporary Restraining Order of the Supreme Court in G.R. Nos. 206844-45.
  • She falsified the Resolution of the Supreme Court in A.M. No. 16-08-04-SC.
  • She delayed action on the numerous Petitions for Retirement Benefits of Justices and Judges, and the surviving spouses of deceased Justices and Judges.
  • She manipulated and thereafter delayed the resolution of A.M. No. 17-06-02-SC (the request of the Secretary of Justice to transfer the Maute cases outside of Mindanao) after realizing that she lost in the voting.
  • She failed to truthfully disclose her Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth or SALN.
  • She manipulated the shortlist of the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) to exclude then Solicitor General Francis H. Jardeleza, for personal and political reasons, thereby disgracing then Sol. Gen. Jardeleza, and curtailing the President’s power to appoint him.
  • She manipulated the shortlist of the JBC for the six (6) vacancies in the Sandiganbayan, for personal and political reasons, thereby limiting the President’s power to appoint the Justices of the Sandiganbayan.
  • She manipulated the shortlist of the JBC for the two (2) vacancies in the Supreme Court, and failed to heed the pronouncements of the Court in Aguinaldo v. Aquino,  thereby impairing and curtailing the President’s power to appoint the Justices of the Supreme Court.
  • She lied and made it appear that “several justices” requested that they do away with voting for recommendees to the Supreme Court, when in fact not one Justice requested for it.
  • She manipulated the JBC, especially its four (4) regular members, effectively destroying the JBC as a constitutional body mandated to fairly and impartially screen and nominate applicants to the Judiciary.

Acts constituting corruption: 

  • She used public funds to finance her extravagant and lavish lifestyle by ordering the purchase of a brand-new luxurious Toyota Land Cruiser 2017 model as her personal vehicle, amounting to more than Five Million Pesos.
  • She used public funds to stay in opulent hotels when attending conferences in the Philippines and abroad, and flying on business or first class together with her staff and security.
  • She used public funds to flaunt her extravagance by unnecessarily bringing a huge entourage of lawyers in her supposed official foreign trips.

Acts constituting other high crimes: 

  • She obstructed justice by ordering the Muntinlupa Judges not to issue warrants of arrest against Senator Leila M. De Lima.
  • She perverted justice by meeting the Presiding Justice and Associate Justices of the Court of Appeals and instructing them not to comply with the processes of the House of Representatives and to immediately question its processes before the Supreme Court.
  • She failed to report her extortionate attorney’s fees and pay the appropriate taxes therefor.
  • She embellished her Personal Data Sheet (PDS) in her application for the Judiciary to overstate her credentials.

Acts constituting betrayal of public trust: 

  • She hired an Information Technology consultant with an excessive compensation without public bidding, in contravention of existing laws, Commission on Audit (COA) rules, and public policy.
  • She sent a strongly-worded but misplaced reply to President Rodrigo Roa Duterte on the Judges linked to drugs thereby inviting a head-on collision between the Presidency and the Judiciary.
  • She prevented the Justices of the Court of Appeals to do a courtesy call on President Rodrigo Roa Duterte.
  • She attacked the imposition of Martial Law in a commencement address, while the validity of Martial Law was still pending before the Supreme Court, and later continued to participate in the Court’s deliberations.
  • She issued a Joint Statement with the Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeals regarding CA-GR SP No. 151029, which can very well be elevated to the Supreme Court.
  • She practiced favoritism by allowing key positions in the Supreme Court to remain unfilled for a long period of time in order to wait for her staff to qualify, to the detriment of the service and great demoralization of qualified Court employees.
  • She appointed a key official without authority or approval of the Court en banc, in violation of Court-established rules and the Constitution.
  • She gave her newly-hired staff foreign travels and granted them travel allowances for their foreign travels without authority or approval of the Court en banc, in violation of Court-established rules and the Constitution.
  • She usurped the mandate of the Court en banc by arrogating to herself alone the running of the Supreme Court and the Judiciary, thereby destroying the Supreme Court as a collegial body.