January 23, 2018, 10:00 pm
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House panel okays impeach complaint against Sereno

CHIEF Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno will have 10 days to answer private lawyer Larry Gadon’s impeachment complaint against her after the House committee on justice declared it sufficient in form and substance yesterday.

House rules governing impeachment proceedings provide that the committee shall immediately furnish the respondent a copy of the verified complaint with written notice to allow him or her to answer the complaint within 10 days from receipt.

“No motion to dismiss shall be allowed within the period to answer the complaint, so 10 days from today, we will announce (if Sereno has replied) in the next hearing after the respondent Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno has filed her answer,” panel chair Rep. Reynaldo Umali (PDP-Laban, Oriental Mindoro) told the panel.

While Gadon’s complaint was found to be sufficient in both form and substance, the one filed by the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) and the Vanguard of the Philippine Constitution was dismissed after it was found insufficient in form.

Only five congressmen voted in favor the VACC-Vanguard complaint while 28 voted against it for not using the verification form for private complainants.

The motion of Rep. Anthony Bravo (PL, COOP-NATTCO) to declare the Gadon complaint sufficient in form and the other motion of Rep. Harry Roque (PL, Kabayan) to declare the same complaint sufficient were separately approved after an identical vote of 30 against four.

The four lawmakers who voted against the two motions were Reps. Carlos Zarate (PL, Bayan Muna), Arlene Bag-ao (LP, Dinagat Islands), Kit Belmonte (LP, Quezon City) and Ramon Rocamora (LP, Siquijor).

A verified impeachment complaint has to contain a “recital of facts constituting the offense charged and determinative of the jurisdiction of the committee,” which is a required by the House rules on impeachment.

The rules also require complainants to have personal knowledge of the allegations and that the documents supporting it should be authenticated or culled from authentic records.

Zarate argued that the Gadon complaint should be declared insufficient in form because he does not have personal knowledge of the allegations – the same argument the majority used against the impeachment complaint that Rep. Gary Alejano (PL, Magdalo) filed against President Duterte, which was dismissed last May for insufficiency in substance.

He reminded the panel that majority leader Rodolfo Fariñas, himself, had said the only time the committee would be liberal in declaring a complaint sufficient in form was when they heard the  Alejano complaint.

“This (Gadon complaint) is pure hearsay and based on newspaper reports. Even if you read the complaint, the allegations are based on newspaper clippings,” he said. “I think it’s already defective even if Atty. Gadon said he has personal knowledge.”

Bag-ao echoed Zarate’s argument while Rep. Edcel Lagman (LP, Albay), who is not a member of the justice panel, insisted that “what is good to liberate President Duterte should also be good to liberate the Chief Justice.”

Fariñas and Rep. Alfredo Garbin Jr. (PL, Ako Bicol), however, said least 20 authentic records from the Supreme Court (SC) were submitted by Gadon to support the allegations.

Umali said Alejano’s case was different since “we (now) have a private complainant who did his homework.”

“While he may not have personal knowledge, he appended in complaint authentic records and that’s what’s lacking in the Alejano complaint. We can’t treat it similarly because the circumstances are different,” he said.

In voting to declare the Gadon complaint insufficient in substance, Bag-ao pointed out that while the complainant accuses the Chief Justice of culpable violation of the Constitution, he never mentioned in his 11 allegations which provisions were violated.

Rep. Tom Villarin (PL, Akbayan), who, like Lagman, is not a member of the panel, said Sereno’s purchase of a Toyota Land Cruiser was approved by the SC en banc and cannot be considered illegal and impeachable as well as her non-disclosure of her income as private lawyer prior to joining the government.

Gadon, president of the PDU30 Constitutional Reform to Federalism, accused the Chief Justice of culpable violation of the Constitution, corruption, other high crimes and betrayal of public trust.

He accused Sereno of lying in her SALN – the same ground that allies of Aquino used when they impeached Renato Corona in 2012.

The complaint, which was endorsed by 25 lawmakers, alleged that Sereno did not declare in her SALN lawyer’s fees worth P16 million to P37 million in the Piatco arbitration case.
Sereno was also accused of not having paid taxes from earnings, having unauthorized travel expenses for her and her staff and bypassing the Supreme Court en banc in creating new offices.

The VACC’s 16-page complaint for alleged betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the Constitution accused Sereno of acting like a “dictator,” saying she violated the Constitution for issuing an administrative order creating the new Judiciary Decentralized Office (JDO) and re-opening the Regional Court Administration Office (RCAO) in Western Visayas without the approval of the SC en banc.
 
POLITICAL SPECTACLE

Sereno said the allegations in the impeachment complaints are unsupported by concrete evidence and seemed designed to erode her credibility.

She said many of the allegations are unsupported by evidence or rely mainly on hearsay consisting of newspaper clippings and cannot be said to constitute an impeachable offense.

“None of the allegations rises to an impeachable offense. The complaints against her seem designed to maximize the political spectacle, with the goal of eroding her credibility through innuendo and malicious allegations,” her statement stated.

Sereno said she is ready to answer the allegations point by point.

She said she is confident that the mechanisms of the country’s democratic system will afford her a fair, transparent and just opportunity to be heard.

“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,” she said.

Sereno also said the determination of the House committee on justice that the complaint against her is sufficient in substance and form appears inconsistent with its findings and actions in similar proceedings in the past.

She said she has always lived a modest lifestyle and has strictly abided by her oath of office.

For the impeachment proceedings, Sereno tapped the services of lawyer Carlo Cruz, son of the late SC Associate Justice Isagani Cruz, as her spokesman.

Cruz graduated magna cum laude from San Beda College of Law in 1982, the same law school where Duterte finished his schooling.

Deemed an expert in constitutional and administrative law, Cruz has authored several law books on the Philippine Constitution, Philippine Administrative Law and the Law of Public Officers.

He has also built a career in the academe, having taught political law, constitutional law and administrative law at different law schools in the country, including in his alma mater, the University of the Philippine College of Law and the Santo Tomas Faculty of Civil Law.

He was also a Bar review lecturer and lecturer of the Mandatory Continuing Legal Education at several review centers and law schools in the country.

He also served as an associate of the Belo Ermitanio Abiera Law Firm from 1983 to 1986 and a partner in Belo Abiera&Associates Law Firm from 1987 to 1993.

He also became a founding partner at the law firm of Cruz Cruz&Navarro III in 1993 and served as its managing partner until 1998 and again from December 2007 to March 2012.

Since April 2012, Cruz serves as the collaborating counsel to Cruz Law Office.

His father served as SC associate justice from 1986 to 1994.

Cruz said veteran lawyer Alexander Poblador will serve as Sereno’s lead counsel in the impeachment proceedings. 

Poblador obtained his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of the Philippines in 1974, graduating cum laude. He received his Bachelor of Laws also from UP in 1978, graduating cum laude and valedictorian.

He placed third in the 1978 Bar examinations.

He also serves as lawyer of Sen. Grace Poe regarding questions on her citizenship before the 2016 elections.

He likewise represented Sen. Panfilo Lacson in the Dacer-Corbito double murder case in 2000. – With Ashzel Hachero
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