CHIEF Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno vowed to fight “bullying” and save judicial independence as President Rodrigo Duterte’s congressional allies found probable cause Thursday to send her to an impeachment trial before the Senate.
Voting 38-2, the House of Representatives justice committee said there was probable cause to impeach Sereno, in a move critics allege is part of wider efforts by Duterte to destroy foes and usher in one-man rule.
An impeachment trial in the Senate will follow if the House adopts the committee report, focusing on allegations Sereno failed to pay about P2 million in taxes.
“All kinds of lies, threats, harassment and bullying have been thrown my way but I will not yield,” Sereno, the country’s first female chief justice, said at an International Women’s Day event in Manila.
“I am fighting for our future as a freedom-loving nation,” the 57-year-old said, framing the case against her as an issue of “judicial independence.”
Aside from the impeachment case, the government’s chief lawyer on Monday asked the Supreme Court itself to oust its chief justice, citing her alleged failure to disclose assets as required of candidates for her post.
Justice committee chairman Rep. Reynaldo Umali said his panel will ask the House, dominated by Duterte allies, next week to send the case to the Senate for trial.
The committee also accused Sereno of falsifying and tampering with court resolutions, excessive spending by buying a luxury official vehicle, staying in “opulent” hotels and flying business class.
Duterte and Sereno first crossed swords in 2016 when the newly elected President demanded that judges he linked to the illegal drug trade hand themselves in to authorities as part of his crackdown on narcotics.
The chief justice rebuffed him, citing rule of law and separation of powers between the executive and judicial branches of government.
The antagonism between the two mirrors a similar relationship between Duterte’s predecessor, former President Benigno Aquino III and the sitting chief justice at the time, Renato Corona.
Sereno, who replaced Corona, said nothing to protest Aquino’s efforts to destroy his foes, including the jailing of his predecessor, former President Gloria Arroyo.
After Thursday’s vote, Umali’s panel created what House majority leader and Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodoldo Fariñas called a “small working body” to prepare the committee report, including the Articles of Impeachment for approval by the committee March 14.
ABS Party-list Rep. Eugene Michael de Vera, a member of the minority bloc, moved for the panel to find probable cause in the impeachment complaint filed by lawyer Larry Gadon.
Umali, in his opening statement, predicted a full-blown impeachment trial at the Senate.
“Sooner than later we will embark on a new chapter in the impeachment proceeding as prosecutors before the Senate as an impeachment court,” Umali said.
“Throughout the probable cause hearings, this committee has gathered sufficient evidence to provide us with the ammunition to prosecute this case toward victory,” he added.
Gadon accused Sereno of “culpable violation of the Constitution, betrayal of public trust, corruption, and other high crimes” for her alleged lapses, including the alleged untruthful declaration of her wealth in the Statement of Assets, and Liabilities and Net Worth.
The two lawmakers who voted against the finding of a probable cause were Reps. Jose Christopher Belmonte of Quezon City and Arlene Bag-ao of Dinagat Island. With PNA
The committee conducted 18 hearings since Gadon filed the complaint in August 2017–15 of these were devoted to the determination of probable cause.
After the Thursday voting, Fariñas moved for the adoption of his motion for the “small working body” composed of the House justice committee’s vice chairmen to draft the committee report on the impeachment complaint as well as the Articles of Impeachment.
Deputy Speaker and Batangas Rep. Raneo Abu, an ex-officio member of the House justice committee, said due process was observed, even though Sereno refused to attend any of the hearings in the House.
She has said she would defend herself before the Senate, instead.
Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque on Thursday welcomed a House panel’s probable cause vote.
He said the majority vote showed that the process to impeach Sereno is constitutional.
“We are pleased to announce that our institution is working. There are enough bases to hear the charges against Sereno, including not declaring her real wealth, buying a luxury car with government funds and making questionable decisions without consulting her fellow magistrates,” he said.
Roque reiterated that the Malacañang had no part in the House impeachment proceedings against Sereno.
“We leave the fate of the chief justice to Congress,” he said.
Aside from the impeachment case, Sereno is also facing a separate petition filed by Solicitor General Jose Calida before the Supreme Court, which argued that her appointment was null and void from the beginning after she failed to furnish copies of her SALNs for 10 years.
Also on Thursday, the justice committee declassified the information on the results of Sereno’s psychiatric evaluation, which she reportedly failed.
During the committee voting on the existence of probable cause in the impeachment complaint against Sereno, Pampanga Rep. Juan Pablo Bondoc raised the motion to declassify Sereno’s psychiatric test results as discussed in a previous executive session.
Deputy Speaker Gwendolyn Garcia seconded the motion.
Impeachment complainant Gadon claimed that Sereno got a four out of five grade in her psychiatric exam. He claimed that “an applicant to any position in the judiciary with a grade of 4 is unfit for the job.”
Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali, justice committee chairman, said the results of the psychological evaluation could be used as evidence in proving the impeachment case before the Senate acting as the impeachment court.
“We should declassify it so we could use it probably as part of evidence [before the Senate impeachment court]),” Umali said in Filipino.
Last week, the House justice panel went into an executive session with the two psychiatrists—Dr. Genuina Ranoy and Dr. Dulce Lizza Sahagun—who evaluated Sereno’s application for the top judiciary post.
Dr. Geraldine Tria, who was invited by the committee to evaluate the psychological test results, said Sereno possessed five out of nine symptoms of an emotional and dramatic type of personality.
The House justice panel members who voted to find probable cause were:
Johnny Ty Pimentel (Surigao del Sur 2nd District)
Raneo Abu (Batangas 2nd District)
Eric Singson (Ilocos Sur 2nd District)
Fredenil Castro (Capiz)
Gwendolyn Garcia (Cebu 3rd District)
Mylene Garcia-Albano (Davao City 2nd District)
Benhur Lopez (YACAP Party-list)
Rodolfo Fariñas (Ilocos Norte 1st District)
Ferdinand Hernandez (South Cotabato 2nd District)
Juan Pablo Bondoc (Pampanga 4th District)
Arthur Defensor (Iloilo 3rd District)
Roger G. Mercado (Southern Leyte)
Ann K. Hofer (Zamboanga Sibugay, 2nd District)
Vincent Crisologo (Quezon City 1st District)
Aurelio Dong Gonzalez (Pampanga, 3rd District)
Victoria Isabel Noel (AN WARAY Party-list)
Gerald Anthony Gullas (Cebu 1st District)
Alfredo Garbin (AKO BICOL Party-list)
Eugene De Vera (ABS Party-list)
Anthony Bravo (COOP-NATCCO Party-list)
Luis Jose Campos (Makati City 2nd District)
Carlos Roman Uybarreta (1-CARE party-list)
Rodante Marcoleta (SAGIP Party-list)
Romeo Acop (Antipolo City 2nd District)
Abigail Faye C. Ferriol—Pascual (KALINGA Party-list)
Ciriaco Calalang (KABAYAN Party-list)
Vicente Ching Veloso (Leyte 3rd District)
Salvador Leachon (Oriental Mindoro 1st District)
Henry Oaminal (Misamis Occidental 2nd District)
Strike Revilla (Cavite 2nd District)
Roy Loyola (Cavite 5th District)
Marlyn Primicias-Agabas (Pangasinan 6th District)
Lucy Gomez (Leyte 4th District)
Rose Marie Baby Arenas (Pangasinan 3rd District)
Ruwel Peter Gonzaga (Compostela Valley 2nd District)
Xavier Jesus Romualdo (Camiguin)
Rodel Batocabe (AKO BICOL Party-list)
Ron Salo (KABAYAN Party-list)
Only two panel members who voted against the finding of probable cause:
Kaka Bag-ao (Dinagat Islands)
Jose Christopher Belmonte (6th District of Quezon City) With PNA