After recommending the impeachment of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes A. Sereno, the chairman of the House Committee on Justice on Monday expressed confidence that the House of Representatives would have enough plenary votes to endorse the Articles of Impeachment to Senate impeachment court.
This, after House Committee on Justice—voting through 33-1, approved its 45-page committee report finding probable cause to impeach the chief magistrate.
The committee chaired by Rep. Reynaldo V. Umali of the Second District of Oriental Mindoro, likewise, approved the accompanying 56-page Articles of Impeachment, detailing the charges against Sereno.
The approved committee report and the accompanying Articles of Impeachment will be sent to the Committee on Rules which will then decide, within 10 session days, when to calendar the matter for plenary deliberation. Congress is expected to take a Lenten break on Wednesday.
Once the matter is in the plenary, the House has 60 session days to finally vote on whether to send Sereno’s impeachment to the Senate for trial.
“The writing is already on the wall. It will not be difficult to obtain the one-third vote [in favor of the Articles of Impeachment against Sereno]. This will probably happen after the [Lenten] break,” Umali said.
Under the rules on impeachment, a vote of one-third, or at least 98 lawmakers, of the total number of House members is needed to send the impeachment complaint to the Senate.
According to Umali, the six Articles of Impeachment that the committee has prepared “will be the foundation in prosecuting this impeachment case before the Senate, as an impeachment court.”
The first Article of Impeachment charges Sereno for culpable violation of the constitution and betrayal of public trust for nonfiling and nondisclosure of her sworn Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN).
The committee said Sereno misled the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) in 2010 when she claimed it is not possible to retrieve her SALNs from 1996 to 2006. She is also accused of failing to declare in her 2011 SALN 2.24 hectares of land in Mariveles, Bataan, registered under her and her husband’s name, worth around P44 million.
He added Sereno failed to declare in her 2006 and 2009 SALNs the amount of P13.8 million, which is part of the more than P32 million she earned from the Piatco cases. Moreover, the committee said Sereno failed to file her SALN 17 times: for 1987 to 1997, for 1999 to 2001, and 2003 to 2005.
The committee also accused Sereno of tax fraud.
In the second article, Sereno was charged for corruption and betrayal of public trust for misusing a total of P18 million in public funds in the purchase of a brand-new Toyota Land Cruiser, hiring of information-technology consultant for a fee of over P11 million, and using Shangrila, Boracay for the meeting of Association of Southeast Asian Nations chief justices.
Under the third article, Sereno was accused of arrogating the collegial power of the Supreme Court (SC) en banc by issuing resolutions and order without the approval of the body, or contrary to what was agreed by the en banc.
In the fourth article, Sereno was charged for deliberately and maliciously abusing her position as Chief Justice and ex officio chairman of the JBC through efforts to exclude then- Solicitor General Francis H. Jardeleza from the short list of nominees to the vacant SC post, among others.
The fifth article accuses Sereno of deliberately undermining and violating the principle of separation of powers among the three branches of government when, among others, she interfered in the investigation of the House on the misuse of tobacco excise tax funds by the Ilocos Norte government by asking Court of Appeals justices to challenge the House order by elevating the issue before the SC.
The panel charged Sereno for betrayal of public trust by “willfully and deliberately” failing to comply with her oath of office and by tyrannical abuse of discretionary power.
Moreover, Umali said based on the expert opinion of Dr. Geraldine Tria, who reviewed Sereno’s psychiatric evaluation that she displayed the following 5 out of 9 symptoms of mental disturbance: interpersonally exploitative; preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power and brilliance; lacks empathy; has sense of entitlement and a grandiose sense of self-importance.
Umali added the Judiciary is divided, noting the unprecedented move of the SC en banc to force Sereno to go on an indefinite leave.
“The situation of our Supreme Court today and the Judiciary is turning from bad to worse,” Umali said, saying that several organizations within the Judiciary have joined the demand for Sereno’s resignation.
“This clearly shows the divided Judiciary that would only escalate if the leadership in the third branch of government continues to be dysfunctional,” Umali added.
Meanwhile, the committee rejected three charges against Sereno, namely: embellished personal data sheet in applying for the Judiciary, the issue on the judges in the case of Sen. Leila M. de Lima and the issue on the Chief Justice’s speech against the Marcos regime in 2017.
Earlier, the leadership of the House of Representatives said it will wait first for the SC ruling on the removal petition against Sereno through quo warranto petition before the plenary voting on the Articles of Impeachment.
According to Umali, the impeachment against Sereno will be rendered “functus officio” should her appointment be deemed invalid.