WATCH | House justice committee finds probable cause against Sereno

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MANILA, Philippines — (UPDATE 23 – 2:02 p.m.) As expected, the justice committee of the House of Representatives on Thursday, March 8, voting 38-2, found probable cause to impeach Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, paving the way for what is widely expected to be her eventual trial by the Senate.

Committee chairman Representative Reynaldo Umali of Oriental Mindoro earlier defined probable cause as a “well-founded belief in a reasonable mind that an offense has been committed and the person charged is probably guilty.”

The committee, which began hearing the case in September last year, had earlier found sufficient grounds, substance and form in the complaint filed lawyer Lorenzo Gadon. It conducted a total of 18 hearings.

The hearings exposed serious rifts within the Supreme Court after six of Sereno’s fellow justices, in an unprecedented development, testified against her.

The chief magistrate has been on indefinite leave since March on the prodding of the high court en banc and is also facing a quo warranto petition filed by Solicitor Jose Calida questioning the validity of her appointment.

After Thursday’s vote, the committee report will be prepared and submitted for the members’ approval on March 14.

Once approved, it will be sent to the plenary for the vote of the whole House on whether to impeach Sereno, which, given the pro-administration super majority controlling the chamber, is expected to be for impeachment.

Earlier, both Umali and Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez said there were “more than enough grounds” to impeach Sereno. Both have also urged the chief  magistrate to resign instead of undergoing a Senate trial.

But Sereno has stood her ground and the calls for her resignation plus the quo warranto proceedings have been seen as signs of desperation to remove her because the case against her is bound to fail in the Senate.

Assets, Liabilities and Net worth; her alleged failure to pay the correct taxes; her violation of the collegial nature of the Supreme Court; and her arbitrary decision to create regional courts.

After the voting, Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas designated the vice chairpersons of the justice committee to draft the committee report. They are Representatives Vicente Veloso, Salvador Leachon, Henry Oaminal, Arnulfo Fuentebella and Strike Revilla.

According to the Rules of Procedure in Impeachment Proceedings, after the committee approves the report, it is tasked to submit the same report with a resolution setting forth the Articles of Impeachment.

The formal resolution will be calendared by the Rules Committee for consideration by the House within 10 days from receipt. The House shall dispose of the report within 60 session days from its submission by the committee on justice.

A vote of at least one-third of all the members of the House, or 98 of the 292 members, is necessary for the approval of the resolution. Once approved, the Articles of Impeachment shall be transmitted to the Senate for trial.

The lawmakers who agreed there is probable cause against Sereno are:

  1. Johnny Ty Pimentel
  2. Raneo Abu
  3. Eric Singson
  4. Fredenil Castro
  5. Gwendolyn Garcia
  6. Mylene Garcia-Albano
  7. Benhur Lopez
  8. Rodolfo Fariñas
  9. Ferdinand Hernandez
  10. Juan Rimpy Bondoc
  11. Arthur Defensor
  12. Roger G. Mercado
  13. Ann K. Hofer
  14. Vincent Crisologo
  15. Aurelio Dong Gonzalez
  16. Victoria Isabel Noel
  17. Gerald Anthony Gullas
  18. Alfredo Garbin
  19. Eugene De Vera
  20. Anthony Bravo
  21. Luis Jose Campos
  22. Carlos Roman Uybarreta
  23. Rodante Marcoleta
  24. Romeo Acop
  25. Abigail Faye C. Ferriol-Pascual
  26. Ciriaco Calalang
  27. Vicente Ching Veloso
  28. Doy C. Leachon
  29. Henry Oaminal
  30. Strike Revilla
  31. Roy Loyola
  32. Marlyn Primicias-Aggabas
  33. Lucy Gomez
  34. Rose Marie Baby Arenas
  35. Ruwel Peter Gonzaga
  36. Xavier Jesus Romualdo
  37. Rodel Batocabe
  38. Ron Salo

Only Representatives Kaka Bag-ao and Christopher Belmonte cast no votes.

When asked for the strongest grounds to impeach Sereno, Umali said these are her non-filing of Statement of

Quezon City Rep. Kit Belmonte and Dinagat Island Rep. Kaka Bag-ao voted against the existence of probable cause.

“If at all, kung may na-prove man sila sa hearing since day one hanggang ngayon ay nagpakita lang na may samaan ng loob ang mga justices sa isa’t isa na tingin ko magandang subject matter for a bull session o kaya ay team building,” Bag-ao said.

(If the hearings proved anything at all since day one until now, it is that there is bad blood between the justices, which I think is a good subject matter for a bull session or team building.)

Pangalawa tingin ko na-prove lang sa hearing na ito na lalong humina ang ebidensya (Second, I think this hearing proved that the evidence has gotten even weaker),” she added.

Belmonte said: “Kung titingnan mo lahat ng testimonies, lalo na iyong credible testimonies ng Justices, sigurado ko lang, sa tingin nila, hindi siya (Sereno) marunong makisama. Iyon na iyon sigurado kong nasabi nila. Pero probable cause para sabihing impeachable offense, na talagang high crimes, violations of the Constitution, wala talaga akong nakitang probable cause of any of the allegations sa lahat ng testimonies.”

(If you look at all the tesitmonies, especially the credible testimonies of the justices, the only thing I’m sure of is that, in their view, she does not know how to get along with them. That’s what I am sure they said. But probable cause for an impeachable offense, high crimes, violations of the Constitution, I really do not see probable cause for any of the allegations in all the testimonies.)

Bayan Muna party-list Representative Carlos Zarate said the vote finding probable cause was based on “unspecified, even phantom charges.”

Sa overeagerness at kakamadali ng majority ng komite na lutuin ang impeachment na ito ay lumalabas na parang overcooked na ito o nasunog na ito kaya hindi na nila alam anong klaseng charges ang pagbobotohan. Hindi man lang nila inilatag kung saan may probable cause sa mga allegations laban kay CJ Sereno,” he said.

(In the overeagerness and rush of the majority in the committee to cook this impeachment, it is becoming apparent they overcooked or burned this which is why they don’t even know what charges to vote on. They did not even say where probable cause law in the allegations against Sereno.)

Akbayan party-list Representative Tom Villarin assailed the “merciless coup de grace against Sereno on International Women’s Day.”

“It will be a monumental meltdown of the House when trial begins as no impeachable offenses have been  committed by Chief Justice Sereno, only lapses in character despised by other Justices and demonized by this administration,” Villarin said.

Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas compared the impeachment proceedings between the complaints against Sereno and the late Chief Justice Renato Corona.

“No hearings were conducted for the complaint against then Chief Justice Corona … We were invited to a hall one afternoon and everybody was lining up to sign the impeachment complaint against Corona,” he said.

Fariñas said he did not sign the complaint because there was not enough time to study it. But he became part of the prosecution team that tried Corona in 2011.

Corona was found guilty of betraying public trust by the impeachment court.

This time, however, Fariñas said extensive hearings were held to discuss the allegations against Sereno. He urged his colleagues to study thoroughly the committee report before signing it, so that the House will have a well-crafted Articles of Impeachment.