By Ben Rosario
House Committee on Justice, in a near-unanimous voting on Monday, agreed to recommend the impeachment of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno and submit the report finding probable cause on the four grounds for her removal for plenary voting.
Voting 33-1, the House committee approved the Committee Report and six Articles of Impeachment proposing to oust Sereno for culpable violation of the Constitution, betrayal of public trust, corruption, and other high crimes.
In the 45-page Committee Report, the Justice panel said that after a vote of 38 in favor and two against, it came to the conclusion that “probable cause exists” in the impeachment case filed by lawyer Larry Gadon.
This conclusion came after the panel conducted 15 hearings in the past four months. But Sereno never attended any of the hearings while her lawyers were not allowed to participate by cross-examining witnesses.
“It is recommended that this Committee Report and its accompanying Resolution setting for the Articles of Impeachment against Supreme Court Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes P.A. Sereno be approved in a Plenary Roll Call vote pursuant to Section 3(3), Article XI of the 1987 Constitution,” the report stated.
Only Quezon City Rep. Christopher Belmonte, a Liberal Party member, dissented.
“The writing is on the wall. It won’t be difficult to obtain the one-third vote in the plenary,” Umali said during a House leaders press conference after the voting.
This confidence of Umali is bolstered by the fact that his committee has started the vetting process for the composition of the 12-man team of prosecutors that will be tasked to prove the case before the Senate impeachment court.
“The vote, 33-1, has been very lopsided. You can already safely conclude that the plenary will overwhelmingly approve this report and the accompanying Articles of Impeachment,” he stated.
The proposed resolution set forth Articles of Impeachment that contained six grounds invariably accusing Sereno of committing culpable violation of the Constitution, betrayal of public trust, corruption, and other high crimes for various unlawful acts before and during her ascension as chief justice.
Articles of Impeachment
In Article I, Sereno was accused of failing to declare in 11 of her Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Networth the 2.24 hectare land in Mariveles City valued at P44 million registered under her name and that of her husband, Mario Jose Sereno.
The same article also accused her of failing to declare in her 2006 and 2009 SALN, the P13.8 million she earned as legal counsel in the PIATCO cases and for failing to file her SALN 17 times.
“Respondent Chief Justice committed acts of corruption when she misused a total amount of more or less P18 million in public fund showing her grandiose sense of self-importance,” Article II stated.
Article II cited her order for the procurement of a new P5.2 million Toyota Land Cruiser, allegedly in gross violation of Republic Act 9184 or the Government Procurement Reform Act and RA 3019 or the “Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.”
In Article III, Sereno was recommended for impeachment for having “arrogated unto herself the powers reposed upon the Supreme Court as a collegial, deliberated band consultative body by issuing and causing to be issued resolutions and orders without the approval” of the SC enbanc.
Alleged wrongdoings in Article III included her creation “without authority” of the Judiciary Decentralized Office (JDO); her issuance of a temporary restraining order in the consolidated cases of the Coalition of Associations of Senior Citizens in the Phiippines versus Comelec; and her alleged manipulation of the “disposition of the urgent request” by the Secretary of Justice for the transfer of venue of the Maute case.
In Article IV, Sereno was accused of manipulating the processes of the Judicial and Bar Council, including the alleged exclusion of then Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza from the shortlist of nominees for SC justice.
“Respondent caused the clustering of nominees for the six vacant positions of associate justice in the Sandiganbayan without legal basis, hereby impairing the power of the president to appoint members of the judiciary,” Article IV stated.
In Article V, Sereno was accused of deliberately undermining and violating the principles of separation of powers of the three branches of government.
The article accused her of having “interfered in the exercise of the House of Representatives” of its power to conduct investigation in aid of legislation in the reported misuse of the P66.4-million tobacco funds.
Her alleged “deliberate refusal” to heed the justice committee’s invitations for her to attend hearings on the impeachment complaint against her was also pointed to as an act of disrespect to the co-equal chamber.
In Article VI, she was accused of “willfully and deliberately” failing to comply with her oath of office by tyrannical abuse of discretionary power.
The House panel pointed out that as chief justice, Sereno swore to serve office “with utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty and efficiency.”
“However, the schemes, machinations and actions of the respondent, as revealed during the probable cause hearings, are consistent with the psychological findings that she is not recommended for a judiciary position since her emotional and psychological state could interfere with her efficiency as chief justice,” the resolution stated.
“When the trust and confidence have been lost, it is then the duty of members of the Senate to convict and remove the Chief Justice, someone who is not fit to sit as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court,” the resolution stressed.