Sereno strikes back at House; trial looms
The camp of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno on Sunday admitted that she will certainly be impeached by the House of Representatives, but said she was treated unfairly during the hearing of the impeachment complaint filed against her.
Sereno’s spokesperson Josa Deinla acknowledged that the chief magistrate’s impeachment in the House was forthcoming.
“She was denied of her constitutional rights under the Constitution. So in the end, we see that she will be impeached,” Deinla said in a radio interview.
The House committee on justice is set to vote on Thursday to determine if there is probable cause for the impeachment complaint.
Even before the proceedings started, Sereno’s camp had asked the committee chaired by Rep. Reynaldo Umali to allow her lawyers to cross-examine the witnesses presented during the hearings.
However, the House panel turned down the appeal and insisted on Sereno’s presence.
Deinla said that once the impeachment complaint against Sereno is transmitted to the Senate, they will assert Sereno’s constitutional rights as an accused.
“We are confident that the Senate will recognize her rights to have a fair trial,” she said.
But Deinla said they are not certain whether Sereno would personally appear during the impeachment trial in the Senate.
“The decision on whether she will appear before the Senate is up to the chief justice. It’s a personal decision. But definitely, her lawyers will be there at the outset and until the end to represent her,” Deinla said.
Sereno went on indefinite leave starting March 1 to prepare her defense for the looming impeachment trial in the Senate.
Last week, Sereno challenged her critics in the House of Representatives to immediately transmit the articles of impeachment against her to the Senate for trial.
“I ask only one thing from the political leaders, only one thing: Give me my day in the Senate impeachment court or admit that there is no probable cause,” Sereno said in an event at the University of Baguio last Friday.
“If they were so sure of their evidence even to the point of perjuring themselves with baseless accusations that they can prove that I committed a harvest of sins against the people, why not bring it to the Senate?” she added.
Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II on Sunday said the Supreme Court can nullify the appointment of Sereno and order her removal from her post.
Aguirre, an ex-officio member of the Judicial and Bar Council that vets candidates to judicial posts, disputed the assertion made by the Sereno camp that she could only be removed from office through conviction after an impeachment trial in the Senate.
He said that while the Chief Justice is an impeachable official, the Supreme Court has the power to act and resolve a quo warranto petition against her if it is filed by the proper party.
“If your appointment is void an initio or invalid from the beginning, I believe that a petition for quo warranto will suffice to remove you from your position notwithstanding the fact that you are an impeachable official,” Aguirre said in a text message.
A quo warranto petition challenges the legal basis of one’s appointment and seeks the removal of the respondent from office because of lack of qualification or legal basis to continue holding such office.
Aguirre said that the validity of Sereno’s appointment over her failure to meet the 10-year statement of assets, liabilities and net worth requirement for the chief justice post is a justiciable issue that the Supreme Court should resolve.
The Sereno camp said the move to oust her through a quo warranto petition in the Supreme Court was “patently unconstitutional” and “mockery of the rule of law.”
Aguirre, on the other hand, said it is the duty of the Court to resolve any petition filed before it.
He added that a ruling from the Court would be needed as there is no clear jurisprudence on the strict application of JBC rules on the requirements for judicial appointments.
Suspended lawyer Eligio Mallari recently asked Solicitor General Jose Calida to file the quo warranto petition before the Court seeking to invalidate Sereno’s appointment as chief justice in 2012.
Calida was specifically asked to move for Sereno’s removal due to her failure to submit all her statement of assets, liabilities and net worth for 10 years, a requirement for the post.
If granted by the Court, the chief justice could be ordered to vacate her post without the need to complete the ongoing impeachment proceedings in Congress.
Sereno’s camp dismissed the possible quo warranto petition as an “ignorant attempt and parcel of the grand plan to harass, malign and humiliate the chief justice to force her to resign because her detractors know that the impeachment complaint lodged against her is baseless.”
Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali, chairman of the House committee on justice, said he was optimistic Sereno would be impeached.
In an interview over radio dzBB, Umali said “if she [Sereno] is that confident she will win the case, the more that we are confident that she will be convicted.”
Umali said there are strong grounds to impeach the chief justice over her unsound “psychiatric and psychological makeup,” confirmed by two doctors who reportedly gave her poor marks in her psychiatric assessment.
“Her persona showed in the psychiatric and psychological makeup that she had mood swings and so on and so forth. All of those came out,” he said, adding even her fellow justices at the Supreme Court expressed an aversion to her.
“There are even some... telling [us] that she is inhuman, mentally dishonest and [a] usurper…. How can she explain that 13 justices do not even like her?” he said, referring to those who pressed her to go on an indefinite leave of absence.
Umali said if she is acquitted, there would be chaos in the judiciary.
“There are 27 allegations [against her]. These will be voted one by one, and those allegations found to have probable cause shall be included in the articles of impeachment,” he said.
Over 40 prosecutors have been recommended to hear the impeachment trial, but they have voted for only 11, he said.
He said they have already started drafting of the articles of impeachment based on four grounds -- culpable violation of the 1987 Constitution, graft, betrayal of public trust and other high crimes.
“There are some [allegations] that have overlapped, or are almost the same,” he said.
In another development, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, an opposition lawmaker, said the attempt to unseat Sereno through a quo warranto petition could signal a weakness in the impeachment complaint.
“Any quo warranto petition questioning the authority or basis for Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno to hold the position of chief magistrate is doomed to fail,” he said.
The opposition Liberal Party, meanwhile, accused the executive and legislative branches of the Duterte administration and some members of the Supreme Court of ganging up on Sereno.
“Is everyone toeing the line of authoritarianism and the stifling of dissent?” said LP president Senator Francis Pangilinan.
“We hope we can allow the Chief Justice to have her day in court when the impeachment trial goes to the Senate,” said Pangilinan.
He noted that the bedrock of democracy is the rule of law and an independent judiciary branch with unfettered freedom to decide impartially, in accordance with its members’ conscience and facts.
“Regrettably, what we are seeing is the slow weakening of judicial independence and dilution of check-and-balance that endangers democracy and ushers in the rule of autocracy,” the opposition senator said.
Without judging Sereno’s guilt or innocence, Pangilinan said they believe in her firm stance to fight the allegations against her through the impeachment process.
“It is a fight as well for the independence of the judiciary and for the democratic values instilled in our Constitution,” Pangilinan said.
Meanwhile, detained Senator Leila de Lima, also with the Liberal Party, thanked Senate President Aqulilino Pimentel III for acknowledging that, as a sitting senator, she can participate in Sereno’s impeachment trial.
De Lima and other Liberal Party allies, following the lead of then President Benigno Aquino III, played key roles in the impeachment of Sereno’s predecessor, Chief Justice Renato Corona in 2012.