CHIEF Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno on Monday accused President Rodrigo Duterte and House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez of being behind the bid to oust her by impeachment, calling it an attack on democracy.
“This is no longer just about me. It is about our democracy,” Sereno said on ANC’s Headstart.
If she gets impeached, Sereno said, anyone in the country could be accused based on manufactured charges and be denied of his or her basic constitutional rights.
“If they can do this to the chief justice and deny her of her basic constitutional rights, who is safe in this country?” Sereno said.
“If a chief justice, who can be accused of these allegations which are even false, will be removed from office, is there any judge or justice in this country who is safe? Is the judiciary safe? And if the judiciary is not safe, is democracy safe?” she asked.
“Are the constitutional rights of people still assured? Because everyone says that the only way you can assure the rights of people is if you have a virtuous and independent judiciary,” she added.
In the same interview, Sereno said it was evident from Duterte’s pronouncements that he was behind her impeachment.
“The last statement that we had from the presidential spokesperson is that I should leave my office, so I think I understand,” Sereno said.
She also noted that the President had asked her and Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales to resign.
“So does he have a hand in this impeachment? Well I go by his official pronouncement and I wish him success as a President but I hope he understands that checks and balances are very, very important for any democracy,” she said.
In September, Duterte challenged Sereno and Morales to resign with him. Just last month, the President also revealed plans to file an impeachment complaint against the chief justice for alleged corruption.
Sereno said she has no idea why Duterte wanted her out because they never had any personal conflict.
“The only time I remember that he made a remark against me was in connection with the letter I wrote to him in August of 2016, requesting that due process be afforded the judges,” she said.
“Basically I was really emphasizing the need to defend the institutions and to allow the institutions to conduct their own investigations of their errant members because the moment you announce the names of judges, you basically take them out of their functions,” she stressed.
Sereno said she also believed that the House speaker was motivated by vengeance, because when she was a private lawyer, she had testified against an airport contract that Alvarez’ had approved when he was still with the Manila International Airport Administration.
“Speaker Alvarez had a lot to do with the result of that bidding, and one of the cases in fact that was filed against him was precisely for the conflict of interest situation that he finds himself in. A company that his wife owned was the subcontractor for the construction,” Sereno said.
Asked if her testimony against Alvarez could be one of the reasons he was pushing for her impeachment, Sereno said: “This is a matter that my lawyers are still considering. Whether it should be raised, and at which point it should be raised, I will have to listen to the lawyers whether that will be brought up.” With Rio N. Araja
Sereno vowed to prove her innocence in the impeachment proceedings before the House, pointing out that the complainant, lawyer Larry Gadon, has not proven any of the impeachable offenses alleged in the complaint.
The House committee on justice has invited Sereno to its next hearing on the Gadon complaint on Wednesday.
The Palace said Sereno should simply defend herself in the impeachment proceedings.
“That’s why there is a process in impeachment, so the people will know the truth,” Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said in Filipino.
“If the charges are trumped up, that will come out in Congress, then in the Senate. So let’s let the process continue.”
Alvarez urged Sereno to heed the invitation of the House committee on justice to attend its hearing Wednesday.
“Just appear before the House committee on justice and argue on the merits of the case,” Alvarez said.
Alvarez said that Sereno has nothing to fear because she will be given a fair trial.
Alvarez earlier dared Sereno to face her accusers during the House committee on justice impeachment hearings especially if she has nothing to hide and nothing to fear, or just resign.
On Monday, he said Sereno’s lawyers would be barred from attending the hearing on Wednesday if the chief justice does not show up.
“If Sereno ignores our summons, we will continue with the committee hearing. We will consider the evidence, all the official documents, as we will be the prosecutor in the impeachment case in the Senate,” Alvarez told a radio interview.
“I will not allow her lawyers to appear at the committee hearing. They have no business being there. They’re not the ones being impeached. If Sereno were there, then they can accompany her. If the principal is not there, what’s their business attending the committee hearing if they were not invited?” Alvarez said.
Reacting to a query on the reported move by Sereno’s lawyers to elevate the case to the Supreme Court, Alvarez said: “Sereno’s lawyers should know that Congress has exclusive jurisdiction over impeachment cases. So why would they go to the Supreme Court?”
“When your defense is weak, you will be afraid to appear in the hearing. But if you know that you have done nothing wrong, you will not be afraid to face your accusers. It’s as simple as that,” the House leader said.
“They are raising so many issues. They’re just trying to divert the issue. Speaking as a lawyer, I would simply argue on the merits if I had a strong case,” Alvarez said.
Rep. Gwendolyn Garcia of Cebu said the fact that the House justice committee is conducting extensive hearings on the Sereno impeachment complaint and avoided the “creeping impeachment” policy proved that Sereno will get a fair trial.
“This is precisely democracy in action,” Garcia said. “It proves that public official has accountability to the people, in this case the highest official of the judiciary,” she added.
Garcia also said that it was the first time in history of Congress that it veered away from the short-cut process of impeaching a public official.
“Due process is enshrined in the Constitution,” Garin said, adding that the Sereno complaint has been found to be sufficient in form and substance.
Garcia also said the issue of the airport contract was irrelevant to the issues at hand.
Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali, the chairman of the House committee on justice, earlier said his panel invited Sereno to attend on Wednesday. With Rio N. Araja