House panel finds sufficient grounds for impeachment complaint vs Sereno

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This photo taken on August 25, 2016 shows Supreme Court Chief Justice Lourdes Sereno listening to a question during a press conference in Manila. — AFP

By Lira Dalangin-Fernandez

THE HOUSE of Representatives’ justice committee found sufficient grounds for the impeachment complaint against Supreme Court (SC)Chief Justice Maria Lourdes P.A. Sereno, paving the way for a more extensive discussion of the charges against her.

In a 25-2 vote, the House committee on justice voted to declare the sufficiency of the grounds for impeachment against Ms. Sereno.

The two “No” votes were by Dinagat Representative Kaka Bag-ao and Quezon City District 6 Representative Kit Belmonte, both of the Liberal Party.

But while the panel’s vote should have also paved the way for a face-off between Ms. Sereno and her accuser, lawyer Lorenzo Gadon, the Chief Justice has said she does not plan to attend the proceedings and prefers to be represented by counsel.

However, Oriental Mindoro Representative Reynaldo V. Umali, the committee chairman, has also maintained that only Ms. Sereno will be allowed to cross-examine the witnesses against her.

The panel will next decide whether there is probable cause against Ms. Sereno, Mr. Umali said.

“In determining grounds, we take into consideration the pleadings filed (by both parties), if there are sufficient grounds to conduct further hearings,” he said.

Mr. Gadon’s complaint lists down 27 alleged acts by Ms. Sereno that constitute culpable violation of the Constitution — among these, betrayal of public trust, corruption and other high crimes.

Stressing it was his personal view, Mr. Umali said Ms. Sereno may face her accuser and cross-examine witnesses during the hearing to determine probable cause.

“This may be an interesting proceeding that may happen before this committee because, if we allow cross-examination by either party, then this will enrich our proceedings,” he said.

“If we allow the lawyers (of Ms. Sereno), how can we cross-examine the lawyers, how can we ask clarificatory questions from (a lawyer) who is not a party himself or herself?” Mr. Umali asked.

Ms. Sereno’s lawyers, who attended the hearing, however, insisted that they should be allowed to represent her.

Josalee Deinla also reiterated that the “baseless” complaint against Ms. Sereno should be dismissed.

“Sufficiency in grounds means that, necessarily, these should be unlawful or illegal acts and they are of such nature that they would strike at the very core of the essence of government. Ibig sabihin, sobrang grabe ang mga acts na ito, dapat mabigat, hindi gaya ng mga paratang ni Gadon (This means these acts have to be really serious, not like the allegations of Gadon),” she said.

Meanwhile, the committee also voted 26-2 to approve the report dismissing the separate impeachment complaint against Commission on Election chairperson Andres D. Bautista. —