THE chairman of the House justice committee said Thursday he believes a divided Supreme Court is behind the filing of an impeachment complaint against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.
“We are being accused of being so political, but come to think of it, when you look at the impeachment complaint itself, you will see the hand of a divided court,” Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali, chairman of the committee, told the ANC news channel.
Umali noted that the complainant, lawyer Lorenzo Gadon, claims to have several justices willing to testify against Sereno, a sign that “there is something wrong in the Supreme Court and we need to make people accountable.”
These justices may be invited to the panel hearings, he added.
Umali said President Rodrigo Duterte has “has not made any single move” to influence him or other members of the justice panel.
“This was never initiated…[T]here was never an intention on our part to impeach [Sereno], but when things came out in the open, we felt obliged that some people be made accountable,” Umali said.
The justice committee on Wednesday found Gadon’s complaint against Sereno sufficient in form and substance, setting the stage for impeachment proceedings to move forward.
Gadon on Thursday said Sereno should resign rather than be ousted by impeachment.
“If I were Chief Justice Sereno, I will just resign and spare [myself] from the attacks during the impeachment trial,” he said.
“She better think it over. You cannot stop the members of Congress from asking questions, questions that may even be off-tangent just to attack you. These will really tear you apart,” he told ANC’s Early Edition show.
He said there are enough lawmakers in both chambers of Congress to oust Sereno.
He also said that while President Duterte had shot down moves to impeach Vice President Leni Robredo, he did not interfere in Sereno’s case.
Gadon denied speculation that defeated vice presidential candidate, former senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr., was behind the impeachment complaint against Sereno.
A spokesman for the Chief Justice said Sereno did not need to disclose her earnings as a private lawyer in her Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth.
Talking to GMA-7, Carlo Cruz, Sereno’s spokesman, said she earned those fees four or five years ago, before she became chief justice.
He added that it was unreasonable to expect that she would declare all her earnings before she entered public office.
“She did not hide this. She paid taxes on these,” he said in Filipino.
Gadon accused the Chief Justice of failing to report in her SALN the “millions of pesos” she earned when she represented the Philippine International Airport Terminals Co. (Piatco) in a case on the construction of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal III.
He also accused her of buying an P8-million luxury vehicle with Supreme Court funds and other acts of corruption.
Cruz said they would not speculate on any political motives behind the impeachment.
“We have to focus on the charges because what we are fighting for here for is not only the reputation of Chief Justice; it is our integrity. We are also… fighting for the dignity of the institution,” Cruz said.