House panel: Probable cause to impeach Sereno

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Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes P. A. Sereno speaks during an interview with BusinessWorld in this photo taken on February 16, 2018.

THE House of Representatives’ justice committee on Thursday voted 38-2 to find probable cause to impeach Chief Justice Maria Lourdes P.A. Sereno.

The committee, chaired by Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo V. Umali, tasked a technical working group to prepare the articles of impeachment as well as a report that will be voted upon by the committee members on March 14.

The group is composed of vice chair Representatives Arnulfo P. Fuentebella of Camarines Sur (4th district), Doy C. Leachon of Oriental Mindoro (1st District), Henry S. Oaminal of Misamis Occidental (2nd District), Strike B. Revilla of Cavite (2nd Ddistrict), and Vicente S.E. Veloso of Leyte (3rd District).

Asked which among the charges against Ms. Sereno are the strongest, Mr. Umali said: “Lahat malakas naman eh. ’Yung SALN (Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth), ’yung tax, ’yung violation of collegiality of the Supreme Court, siguro ’yung clustering. ’Yung mga major. ’Yung iba kasi siguro iko-collapse na lang ’yon, iko-combine into one article.” (All the charges are strong: [regarding] SALN, tax, violation of collegiality of the Supreme Court, and maybe the clustering. The major ones. The others are probably going to be collapsed and combined into one article.)

Mr. Umali said it’s up to the rules committee, headed by Majority Floor Leader Rodolfo C. Fariñas (Ilocos Norte, 1st District), when it will calendar the committee report for the plenary.

Mr. Fariñas said earlier in an interview that the House is likely to tackle Ms. Sereno’s impeachment in the plenary “when we return on May 14.” Congress will go on a break starting March 21.

The committee also approved a motion by Deputy Majority Leader Juan Pablo Bondoc (Pampanga, 4th District) to declassify a psychiatric evaluation report on Ms. Sereno and others matters covered by the executive session conducted last Feb. 27, with the aim of having these form part of the evidence against the Chief Justice.

The others who voted on probable cause are: Deputy Speakers Raneo E. Abu (Batangas, 2nd District), Mylene J. Garcia-Albano (Davao City, 2nd District), Fredenil H. Castro (Capiz, 2nd District), Gwendolyn F. Garcia (Cebu, 3rd District), Ferdinand L. Hernandez (South Cotabato, 2nd District), and Eric D. Singson (Ilocos Sur, 2nd District);

Deputy Majority Leaders Mr. Bondoc, Anthony M. Bravo (COOP NATCCO Party-List), Jose Angel N. Campos, Jr. (Makati City, 2nd District), Vincent P. Crisologo (Quezon City, 1st District), Eugene Michael B. De Vera (ABS Party-List), Arthur R. Defensor, Jr. (Iloilo, 3rd District), Alfredo A. Garbin, Jr. (AKO BICOL Party-List), Aurelio D. Gonzales, Jr. (Pampanga, 3rd District), Gerald Anthony V. Gullas, Jr. (Cebu, 1st District), Ann K. Hofer (Zamboanga Sibugay, 2nd District), Roger G. Mercado (the lone district of Southern Leyte), and Victoria Isabel G. Noel (AN WARAY Party-List).

Representatives Romeo M. Acop (Antipolo, 2nd District), Marlyn L. Primicias-Agabas (Pangasinan, 6th District), Rose Marie J. Arenas (Pangasinan, 3rd District), Rodel M. Batocabe (AKO BICOL Party-List), Ciriaco S. Calalang (KABAYAN Party-List), Lucy Torres-Gomez (Leyte, 4th District), Ruwel Peter S. Gonzaga (Compostela Valley, 2nd District), Benhur B. Lopez, Jr. (YACAP Party-List), Roy M. Loyola (Cavite, 5th District), Rodante D. Marcoleta (SAGIP Party-List ), Abigail Faye C. Ferriol-Pascual (KALINGA Party-List), Johnny Ty-Pimentel (Surigao del Sur, 2nd District), Xavier Jesus D. Romualdo   (the lone district of Camiguin), Ron P. Salo (KABAYAN Party-List), and Carlos Roman Uybarreta (1-CARE Party-List).

The two dissenters are Representatives Kaka J. Bag-ao (the lone district of Dinagat Islands) and Jose Christopher Y. Belmonte (Quezon City, 6th District).

Also on Thursday, Ms. Sereno, in a speech at the annual convention of the Philippine Women Judges Association (PWJA), said she “will not yield” and will “continue to fight” amid calls for her removal from office.

“All kinds of lies, threats, harassment, and bullying have been throw my way but I will not yield,” the Chief Justice said.

She added: “That is why I must fight to have my day at the Senate Impeachment Court. This fight is a fight for Judicial Independence, for the right of every Member of the Court to confront her accuser face to face in a trial type proceeding.”

“Indeed, I look at any forum to try me other than the constitutionally exclusive forum of impeachment as an admission by the complainant and my other detractors that after 15 hearings, they have failed to come up with any evidence with which I can be convicted in the Senate.” — Minde Nyl R. dela Cruz and Dane Angelo M. Enerio