House panel OK’s impeachment complaint vs Sereno

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Supreme Court Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes P. A. Sereno speaks to journalists at the De La Salle University, Manila, in this file photo taken on August 28, 2013. -- BW FILE PHOTO

By Lira Dalangin-Fernandez

THE FIRST impeachment complaint against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes P.A. Sereno, filed by lawyer Larry Gadon, was declared sufficient in form and in substance by the House of Representatives’ committee on justice despite objections that it was defective and did not present clear evidence of being impeachable offenses.

The separate votes Wednesday morning, Sept. 13, on the Gadon complaint’s form and substance yielded the same results, 30-4.

The committee is still debating the complaint filed by the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption.

Mr. Gadon’s complaint accuses Ms. Sereno of betrayal of public trust, culpable violation of the Constitution, corruption and other high crimes.

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

But Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali, the chairperson of the House justice committee that conducted the hearing, insisted Mr. Gadon “did his homework” and obtained authentic records and certified true copies of the records from the Supreme Court.

In a statement, lawyer Carlo L. Cruz, Ms. Sereno’s newly appointed spokesman for her impeachment defense, maintained that the complaints against her 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,” said Mr. Cruz, an alumnus of President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s alma mater, the San Beda College of Law.

He added that Ms. Sereno “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 o 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 short list 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 short list 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 short list 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.