WILL Philippine Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno share the same fate as her predecessor? Sereno succeeded the late Renato Corona, the first Filipino magistrate to be impeached and convicted.
Beginning this week, the House of Representatives Committee on Justice will tackle impeachment complaints again Sereno. The committee will review whether the complaints are sufficient in form and substance.
Sereno is accused of alleged culpable violation of the Constitution, betrayal of public trust, and corruption for purportedly bypassing the Supreme Court en banc in creating new offices, her “excessive” purchase of a P5.1-million sports utility vehicle, and her alleged failure to declare “exorbitant lawyer’s fees” allegedly amounting to $745,000 or P37 million.
Under the Constitution, the House acts as the prosecuting panel while the Senate acts as an impeachment court. If at least one-third of all the House members vote to endorse the impeachment, a trial will proceed in the Senate, which will sit as an impeachment court.
The Corona trial was the first of its kind to be concluded in Philippine history. He was the third Filipino official to be impeached by Congress after martial law. The first was former President Joseph Estrada, who was deposed while still under trial by the Senate. The second was former Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, who resigned days before her Senate trial.
In December 2011, members of the House of Representatives moved swiftly to impeach then Chief Justice Corona for alleged betrayal of public trust, violation of the Constitution, and graft and corruption.
In May 2012, 20 senators declared Corona guilty of betraying public trust and committing a culpable violation of the Constitution, instantly removing him from his post and disqualified him from holding any public position.
Criminal charges including graft and corruption, and multiple counts of tax evasion cases before the Sandiganbayan and the Court of Tax Appeals (CTA) were then filed against the former chief justice.
However, these charges were extinguished when the defendant succumbed to cardiac arrest last April 29, 2016. Corona died at the age of 67.
“It does not affect me at all,” Chief Justice Sereno said when asked about the two impeachment complaints lodged against her.
Sereno maintained that she has been living a life of modesty.
“I have been prudent in use of the court’s resources at the expenses for judicial reform. My travels, my security requirements are all regular and above board. Public documents and records will speak for itself and I have not objected in the public release of the same,” Sereno said in August during the Ulat sa Hudikatura forum held in Cebu.
“I have done nothing wrong. Nothing can be proven against me that will show that the Chief Justice has betrayed her oath of office. I have served the country with all faith and diligence. I will never waver from that pledge,” she stressed.
This debacle portrays many forms of denigration that continuous to taint the country’s political and constitutional process. No matter which side who is on, the outcome of the trial will be difficult to predict and vagaries in the procedures will be inevitable. The seriousness of this challenge affects both parties involved, and every Filipino as it slowly but surely traces impacts on the independence of the Philippine judiciary.
Rendering justice will strengthen the system. It will be present a strong statement in balancing all the interests of the Constitution, the law, public welfare, and due process in this impeachment trial. Whichever camp wins, the outcome will be a guiding principle saving the country from the usurpation of the Filipinos’ celebrated democracy. (AJPress)