After 18 hearings, the House Committee on Justice on Thursday found probable cause to impeach Chief Justice Maria Lourdes A. Sereno.
Voting 38-2, members of the justice committee voted that there is probable cause in the impeachment complaint filed by lawyer Larry Gadon against Sereno.
The impeachment complaint filed by Gadon contains four grounds including corruption, culpable violation of the Constitution, betrayal of public trust and other high crimes. The complaint also alleged 27 acts constituting the offenses charged against the Chief Justice.
Rep. Reynaldo V. Umali of the Second District of Oriental Mindoro, committee chairman, said his panel will approve on March 14 the committee report and the articles of impeachment.
The committee has created a technical working group to prepare the committee report and the articles of impeachment that will be headed by five vice chairmen of the justice panel. The committee report and the articles of impeachment are also expected to be submitted to the plenary on March 14.
“Throughout the probable cause hearings, this committee has gathered sufficient evidence to provide us with the ammunition to prosecute this case toward victory,” Umali said.
With this, Umali added, his panel recorded “another milestone” for the first conduct of a full cycle of impeachment proceedings from filing and referral, to determination of form, substance, and grounds, and the determination of probable cause.
“[All members of the Judiciary] must be a person of proven competence, integrity, probity and independence,” he said.
“Failure to live up to the foregoing standard impairs the ability of the Chief Justice to dispense justice. In fact, as the highest magistrate of the land, she must be held to a much higher, if not highest standard,” Umali added.
Meanwhile, the justice committee also approved the declassification of information on the results of Sereno’s psychiatric evaluation, which she got a score of four with five as the lowest.
Gadon said Sereno got a 4 out of 5 grade in her exam, saying “an applicant to any position in the Judiciary with a grade of 4 is unfit for the job.”
Umali also said the psychological evaluation of Sereno could be used as evidence before the Senate impeachment court.
“We should declassify it so we could use it probably as part of evidence,” Umali said.
Last Tuesday the leadership of the House of Representatives said it will wait first for the Supreme Court ruling on the removal petition against Sereno through quo warranto petition before the plenary voting on the articles of impeachment.
PARTY-LIST Rep. Tom S. Villarin of Akbayan, meanwhile, described the move of the justice committee to impeach Sereno as “merciless coup de grace.”
“It was a merciless coup de grace against CJ Sereno on international women’s day at that. But, despite this outcome, she remains steadfast in defining this fight as that for truth and independence of the Judiciary. Her fight is not lost upon us, as this move will create a backlash against the Duterte administration for bringing to trial a Chief Justice who stood up against a bloody war on drugs, violations of the rule of law and misogyny,” he said.
“With her impending impeachment trial in the Senate, the public will now know how the administration used power to crucify those who stand for truth. It will be a monumental meltdown of the House when trial begins as no impeachable offenses have been committed by CJ Sereno, only lapses in character despised by other justices and demonized by this administration,” Villarin added.
For its part, the Makabayan bloc of the lower chamber said there is no probable cause to impeach Sereno.
The bloc added that after several months of hearing, Gadon’s impeachment complaint has proven nothing that rises to the level of impeachable offense.
“Contrary to the position taken by the majority members of the Committee on Justice, the Gadon impeachment complaint failed to show probable cause that CJ Sereno committed any impeachable offense,” the Makabayan said in a news statement.
“In fact, the grounds for impeachment were not even deliberated upon. The committee went straight to voting whether or not there was probable cause, without enumerating the grounds for impeachment,” it added.
Members of the bloc include representatives from the party-lists Bayan Muna, Act Teachers, Kabataan, Gabriela and Anakpawis.
The group also said the voting proceeding was highly irregular.
“The members of the committee voted as to the existence of probable cause without knowing or informing the public, especially the respondent CJ Sereno, as to which ground for impeachment such probable cause exists. This move is unprecedented; even during the impeachment of Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez and former Chief Justice [Renato C.] Corona, the committee enumerated the grounds for impeachment for which the committee found probable cause prior to taking a vote, since not all of the grounds alleged in the impeachment complaint satisfied the probable cause standard in these past cases,” it said.
“It is unfortunate that, instead of substantiating the allegations in the impeachment complaint, the committee proceedings became a platform to expose the internal bickering and personal issues of the members of a coequal branch of government. Exposing these to the public only resulted in putting more questions to the integrity and independence of the Judiciary—which, to many people is in fact illusory,” it added.
According to the Makabayan bloc, the proceedings, likewise, became a venue for fishing expedition.
“At the beginning of the proceedings, complainant had been admonished quite frequently to present evidence that are not hearsay and are material to the allegations. But, despite such order from the committee, the complainant failed to produce evidence sufficient to hurdle the probable cause standard,” it said.
“Toward the end of the committee proceedings, it becomes apparent that complainant himself does not believe in his impeachment complaint. Complainant even called for the CJ to resign instead, and threatened court employees with graft cases. Complainant just last week said he preferred that CJ Sereno be ousted through quo warranto process. These pronouncements betray complainant’s belief as to the weakness and baselessness of the impeachment case that he filed,” the bloc said.