THE impeachment of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno drew closer Monday as the House committee on justice approved its report finding probable cause to impeach her, and the 56-page articles of impeachment.
“We have made history here,” said Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali, the panel’s chairperson.
The approved committee report and articles of incorporation will be sent to the House committee on rules, which will decide within 10 session days when to calendar their plenary deliberation.
In plenary, the House will have 60 session days to vote whether or not to send the complaint on to the Senate for trial.
Umali said 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.”
Out of the 27 allegations of the impeachment complainant, lawyer Larry Gadon, 24 were included in the six articles of impeachment against Sereno for alleged betrayal of public trust, corruption, other high crimes and culpable violation of the Constitution.
The first article of impeachment said Sereno committed a culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust for the alleged non-filing and non-disclosure of her sworn statement of assets, liabilities and net worth.
Sereno, the committee said, misled the Judicial and Bar Council in 2010 when she claimed it was not possible to retrieve her SALNs from 1996 to 2006. She is also accused of failing to declare in her 2011 SALN the 2.24 hectares of land in Mariveles, Bataan, registered under her and her husband’s name, worth about P44 million.
Similarly, the House justice panel said 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 Philippine International Air Terminals Co. Inc. cases. Moreover, the committee said Sereno should be removed from office for non-filing of 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 with corruption and betrayal of public trust for allegedly misusing a total of P18 million in public funds in the purchase of a brand-new Toyota Land Cruiser, hiring of an IT consultant for a fee of over P11 million, and using Shangrila Boracay for the meeting of Asean chief justices.
Under the third article, Sereno was accused of arrogating the collegial power of the Supreme Court en banc by issuing resolutions and orders without the approval of the body, or contrary to what was agreed upon by the court en banc.
In the fourth article, Sereno was accused of deliberately and maliciously abusing her position as chief justice and ex officio chairman of the Judicial and Bar Council to exclude then Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza from the short list of nominees to a vacant Supreme Court post at the time, 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 to the Supreme Court.
Lastly, the panel charged Sereno with betrayal of public trust by willfully and deliberately failing to comply with her oath of office “Sereno should answer all these Articles of Impeachment after ignoring the committee,” said Deputy Speaker and Batangas Rep. Raneo Abu.
“The committee report and the Articles of Impeachment are products of serious scrutiny of all the allegations presented against her,” said Abu, an ex-officio member of the House justice committee.
Umali said he was confident there were enough votes in the House to approve the articles of impeachment in plenary and send the case to trial before the Senate.
“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 at a press conference.
“You can safely conclude we will overwhelmingly approve this committee report and the accompanying articles of impeachment,” Umali added.
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.
Earlier, the House justice committee voted 33-1 to approve its 45-page committee report finding probable cause to impeach the chief magistrate, as well as accompanying 56-page articles of impeachment detailing the charges against her that would be elevated to the Senate for trial.
Asked about the pending quo warranto case against Sereno before the Supreme Court, Umali said the impeachment proceedings will be rendered “functus officio” should her appointment be deemed invalid.
“That should ease up the process and unburden the country of a dysfunctional chief justice,” Umali said.
He said they are nonetheless ready for a possible impeachment trial and that they have a “very strong case” against Sereno. With PNA
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