The House of Representatives Justice Committee on Wednesday, September 13, found the first impeachment complaint against Philippine Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno sufficient in form and substance.
The first complaint was filed by lawyer Lorenzo “Larry” Gadon, which was endorsed by 25 lawmakers. Gadon accused Sereno of culpable violation of the Constitution, corruption, other high crimes and betrayal of public trust.
During the hearing, 30 panel members voted for the motions deeming Gadon’s complaint to be sufficient in form and substance.
COOP-NATCO party-list Representative Anthony Bravo, who moved to find the complaint sufficient in form, cited the need for Congress to look into the allegations that may prove her unfit for her position.
“Same as the charges against court personnel must be acted on by the Supreme Court, so the charges against the Chief Magistrate must be heard by the institution that can hold the Chief Justice accountable – the Congress,” Bravo said.
Lawmakers who voted against the complaint, however, argued that Gadon did not have “personal knowledge” because his allegations were based on newspaper clippings.
Among the members who voted against the motions were Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Zarate, Quezon City Representative Kit Belmonte, Dinagat Islands Representative Kaka Bag-ao and Siquijor Representative Ramon Rocamora.
“If we based on how we treated the (Rep. Gary Alejano) complaint, if these are based on newspaper reports then I think these are clearly hearsay, and we should not, sabi nga natin (as we said) this proceeding should not be used as a fishing expedition proceeding,” Zarate said.
Supporting Zarate’s opinion, Bag-ao added, “Secondary sources will not constitute personal knowledge and are considered hearsay.”
But Oriental Mindoro 2nd District Representative Reynaldo Umali, chairman of the committee, disagreed, saying that it is supported by authentic documents released by the Supreme Court on August 15
“In this particular case, we have a private complainant in the person of Attorney Gadon who did his homework. While he may not have personal knowledge, he appended to his complaint authentic records and that is what is lacking in the Alejano complaint,” Umali said.
Among the grounds in Gadon’s impeachment rap include Sereno’s “whimsical” and “excessive” purchase of a Toyota Land Cruiser amounting to P5.1 million, and misuse of judiciary funds when attending local and foreign conferences.
He also accused Sereno of failing to be truthful in declaring her statement of assets, liabilities, and net worth (SALN), as well as obstructing justice when she ordered Muntinlupa judges to not to issue arrest warrants against Senator Leila De Lima.
A second impeachment complaint against Sereno was also filed by Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) founding chairman Dante Jimenez and Vanguard of the Philippine Constitution Inc. president lawyer Eligio Mallari. It was endorsed by 16 House members.
The House panel, however, did not give the same verdict to the second impeachment complaint. It was deemed insufficient in form by a vote of a vote of 5-28.
Following the committee’s decision, Sereno’s camp asked Congress to “affirm their commitment to democracy over partisan or parochial interests.”
Sereno’s spokesperson, Atty. Carlo L. Cruz, maintained that “none of the allegations” against the chief justice “rises to an impeachable offense.”
“We remain hopeful that our Congress will decide based on the merits of the case, and affirm their commitment to our democracy over partisan or parochial interests. In the meantime, the Chief Justice continues to discharge her duties with fairness, integrity and humility,” Cruz said in a statement.
He further remarked that the impeachment complaint is likely “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,” Cruz added.