MANILA, Philippines – From a dearth of first-hand information to an “overflow” of details.
As the House committee on justice ended its 4th hearing to determine probable cause in an impeachment complaint against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, committee chairman Reynaldo Umali said it’s becoming clear that “irregularities” had happened in the Supreme Court (SC).
The question now, he said, was whether those irregularities are impeachable offenses.
“Ngayon pa lang, lumilinaw na na talagang may mga kakaibang pangyayari. Ang titingnan na lang natin ngayon ay kung ito ba ay sapat for impeachment,” said Umali after the “impeachment committee” hearing on November 29, Wednesday. (This early, it’s becoming clear that irregularities have happened. What we will look into is whether these could be grounds for impeachment.)
The committee and the complainant, Larry Gadon, have been criticized for the latter’s clear lack of personal knowledge in the allegations he has made against Sereno. Gadon says he has documents to prove his allegations and that resource persons can later shed light on the issues.
Umali himself has scolded Gadon several times over the course of 4 hearings for being unprepared in presenting evidence to back up his complaint.
The November 29 hearing was “unprecedented,” in the words of House Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas. Teresita Leonardo de Castro, a sitting SC associate justice, served as resource person in at least two of the issues raised by Gadon in his impeachment case against Sereno.
Justices are typically only heard through the decisions they pen as members of the High Court.
De Castro on Wednesday spoke about the processes within the Supreme Court as she testified on the apparent deceit when Sereno created a Regional Court Administrator’s Office (RCAO), which resembled a more permanent Judiciary Decentralized Office (JDO), and the “grossly unprocedural” action she took in issuing a temporary restraining order (TRO) in a party-list case that did not follow the recommendation of the member-in-charge, De Castro herself.
Also with De Castro was Court Administrator Midas Marquez, who is also privy to the allegations Gadon made in his complaint.
The House committee began hearings to determine probable cause in Gadon’s complaint – the last phase before it decides to reject the complaint or impeach Sereno. From there, the committee will submit its report to plenary for voting.
If at least one-third of the House votes in favor of a complaint that recommends Sereno’s impeachment, the Chief Justice will be deemed impeached.
Umali earlier set a December 13 target for a plenary vote on the committee report. He had hoped that, by December 11, the committee would vote on its final decision on the Sereno complaint.
But that schedule has since been moved, since some key resource persons – including associate justices Noel Tijam and Francis Jardeleza – have asked to appear on December 11 yet.
The committee is also waiting for various agencies to produce documents, such as Sereno’s Statement of Liabilities, Assets, and Net Worth (SALN), and her tax filings.
Other Supreme Court employees are also set to speak before the committee.
Umali expects the plenary to vote on the Sereno impeachment complaint by January 2018 at the earliest. – Rappler.com