THE House of Representatives is committed to approving the articles of impeachment against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno a week or two after session resumes on May 15, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez said Wednesday.
Alvarez said the House would act on the complaint swiftly since the committee on justice had already found probable cause to impeach Sereno and prepared the corresponding committee report and articles of impeachment against her.
“Our intention was to approve these before we took a break but we didn’t have enough time to do it. I’m sure that after the resumption of session we can approve these in plenary within one or two weeks,” Alvarez told a radio interview.
Before Congress adjourned March 21, the committee on rules had already referred the matter to the plenary for consideration.
A vote of at least one-third of all members of the House of Representatives is needed to approve the articles of impeachment and transmit the case to the Senate for trial.
Earlier, Alvarez said he would heed the call of President Rodrigo Duterte to speed up Sereno’s impeachment. Irked by Sereno’s accusations against him, Duterte said he would ask Congress to act swiftly on the impeachment case.
“It will be done once we resume sessions,” Alvarez said in response.
But Alvarez said if the separate quo warranto petition against the chief justice prospers in the Supreme Court, this would render impeachment moot.
He said the quo warranto case filed by Solicitor General Jose Calida is a separate legal course of action that questions the validity of Sereno’s appointment to the office.
On the other hand, Alvarez said the impeachment process seeks to make an impeachable official accountable for the actions she took while serving in office.
“Who are we going to impeach if she turns out to be a fake chief justice? If she is not really the chief justice or a justice, then we have nobody to impeach,” Alvarez said.
On Tuesday the Supreme Court held oral arguments on the quo warranto case Calida filed against Sereno.
After the oral arguments, the Supreme Court gave Sereno and Calida 10 days to submit their respective memoranda to the court.
Senator Richard Gordon on Wednesday guaranteed that Sereno would be judged based on “what is right and what’s wrong, and what’s legal and what’s illegal when the House transmits her impeachment case to the Senate.
Speaking in Wednesday’s “Kapihan sa Senado,” Gordon said he believes senators would be objective when they sit as jury in the impeachment trial.
While President Duterte urged members of the House to hasten Sereno’s impeachment, Gordon said House members can always say no.
“The House is a co-equal body and they could say no to the President,” Gordon said. He dismissed the President’s remarks as amounting to undue interference.
Earlier, at least four senators categorically said they will not be swayed by Duterte’s call that Sereno should be out of the Supreme Court and that House of Representatives should speed up her impeachment.
Senator Nancy Binay said she would base her decision on the evidence to be presented before the impeachment court.
Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, a former Justice secretary, also said that he would decide on “the basis of the Constitution, the law, and the evidence presented during the trial.”
Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, a staunch critic of Duterte, said the President can try to sway the chamber but those who have a stand will remain firm while those who are afraid of him will heed him.
Trillanes declined to name names, but said they will be known by their vote in the impeachment trial.
Opposition Senator Leila de Lima described Duterte’s declaration of war on Sereno as “unacceptable behavior” for any public official.
“But this is Duterte, and we have been used to his gangster governance for some time now,” she said.
After declaring Sereno his enemy, Duterte called lawmakers to hasten her impeachment to immediately kick her out of the Supreme Court.
“I’m putting you [Sereno] on notice that I am now your enemy and you have to be out of the Supreme Court,” Duterte said before flying to China for an economic forum.
Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III, an ally of the President, refused to comment on the issue as he will be one of the judges and will even serve as a presiding officer when Senate convenes as an impeachment court.
“No comment. Judge,” said Pimentel but asked that he be allowed to inform everyone that the Senate is ready for the impeachment trial.
Sereno appeared uncowed by Duterte’s threats.
“There’s no retreat! The fight continues!” Sereno told her supporters who gathered near the Supreme Court compound in Baguio City after the oral arguments on the quo warranto petition filed against her, assuring them that she will continue the fight until the end.
Sereno made the statement after she was grilled by her fellow justices during the oral arguments, including Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, whom she had a shouting match.
Sereno, who is on indefinite leave, vowed to continue to be “a defender of democracy” and insisted she would not bow to the powers that be.
On Monday, Sereno publicly accused President Duterte of being behind moves to oust her. An irate Duterte quickly responded and called for Sereno’s ouster as his “enemy” and asked Congress to “fast track” the impeachment proceedings.
Sereno did not grant media interviews after the grueling oral arguments, which were highlighted by the spectacle of her two-hour confrontation with De Castro, one of the magistrates who testified against her in the earlier impeachment proceedings in the House of Representatives.
It was the first time in the history of the Supreme Court that a sitting chief justice was grilled by her colleagues about her eligibility and fitness to her post.
Sereno was even required by her colleagues to answer their questions under oath.
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