The only other Philippine chief justice who faced impeachment proceedings was Renato Corona. It took only a majority caucus on December 12, 2011, to approve the impeachment complaint and the House of Representatives voted in session to endorse the complaint to the Senate. The trial in the Senate began on December 14, 2011, and ended on May 29, 2012, with Corona’s conviction on complaints deemed betrayal of public trust.
It is now five months since an impeachment complaint was filed against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno. All these months the committee has been holding televised hearings at which so many witnesses, including justices of the Supreme Court, testified on so many issues, including Sereno’s alleged failure to report her income as a lawyer before her appointment to the court in her Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Networth, her appointment of a high-salaried consultant, ignoring standard court procedures, and even her low rating in a psychological test when the Judicial and Bar Council was considering the candidates for chief justice in 2012.
Last Tuesday, the House Committee on Justice said it still could not decide on the grounds it would include in the articles of impeachment to be sent to the Senate for trial. The committee chairman said it needs more time to come up with a comprehensive impeachment document for its “very strong case” against Sereno.
In the meantime, while the House committee takes its time, two other moves have been launched against the chief justice.
One is a quo warranto case filed by the Solicitor General claiming that her 2012 appointment was void ab initio – from the beginning – as she did not meet all the requirements for her appointment. This is being heard by the Supreme Court, many of whose members had tesified against her in the House hearings.
The other is a renewed call for her to resign. This call had been made early in the case by both executive and congressional officials, purportedly to save the institution “from further damage.” Last Monday, judges and court employees joined in the call for her resignation at the flag ceremonies. Chief Justice Sereno has long rejected the call for resignation, saying she will defend herself in the Senate trial.
If the Corona trial is any indication, it will be months before the Sereno impeachment case is decided. Even then, it may not be settled with finality. There has been so much bitterness in this case, a lot of it only remotely related to the constitutional basis for any impeachment. But we will have to go through this process. Any other process would be open to question.