House panel to wrap up Sereno impeachment hearing

Bea Cupin
House panel to wrap up Sereno impeachment hearing
After 5 months, the House impeachment committee is finally set to finish deliberations on the impeachment complaint against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno

MANILA, Philippines – After 17 hearings over 5 months the House committee on justice is set to wrap up its deliberations on an impeachment case against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.

Committee chairman Oriental Mindoro 2nd District Representative Reynaldo Umali had earlier announced that they intend Tuesday, February 27, to be the last hearing before the complaint is eventually voted on by the committee.

Lawyer Larry Gadon wants Sereno impeached for allegedly overriding the Supreme Court en banc and for supposed dishonesty in her Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN), among others.

Back in late 2017, the committee had determined the complaint sufficient in form, substance, and grounds. Another complaint was prompty junked by the committee because it was unsufficient in form. 

Determining probable cause in the complaint has thus far been the most time-consuming step in the process. 

The committee has been tackling each of the allegations made by Gadon by speaking to resource persons from the judiciary, including the Supreme Court. (READ: How Sereno answered her impeachment complaint)

The Sereno impeachment complaint had made history several times in the House.

It’s the first time an impeachment case has reached this far in the process since in the past, complaints were fast-tracked and skipped discussions at the committee level to determine probable cause. 

It was also the first time for sitting Supreme Court associate justices to face the House as resource persons in a hearing.

Over several months, the public, through the impeachment committee, has seen first-hand apparent cracks in the Supreme Court, with associate justices openly questioning and sometimes attacking the leadership, decision-making, and actions of Sereno.

In the most recent hearings, Supreme Court associate justices questioned Sereno’s inclusion in the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC)’s short list, despite her apparent failure to submit all her SALNs. This had been justified by the JBC as “substantial compliance” on her part, which the body allowed.

The JBC is an independent body that interviews and shortlists possible appointees to the judiciary, from trial court justices to the Chief Justice.

Ironically, missing SALNs were not part of Gadon’s complaint and were only discovered in the course of the committee hearings.

Sereno has declined to personally appear before the committee and instead, asked it early on to allow her lawyers to appear on her behalf.

This request was rejected by the committee. Members have made it a point to highlight the Chief Justice’s absence at the start of almost all hearings.

The Chief Justice and her team of lawyers have long called on the House to go ahead and impeach her, so that the complaint would be forwarded to the Senate, sitting as an impeachment court.

Once Umali formally wraps up hearings on Tuesday, the committee will prepare and officially approve a report that will either recommend Sereno’s impeachment or junk the complaint altogether.

That report will then be forwarded to the House plenary.

A one-third vote from plenary is all it takes to impeach Sereno – they can either vote in favor of a committee report that recommends her impeachment or vote against a report that recommends the junking of the complaint.

If she is impeached by the House, the Senate will determine if she is guilty or innocent. If voted guilty, Sereno will have to vacate her post.

Sereno is the first female and youngest appointee to the highest post in the judiciary. She is set to retire in 2030 yet, when she turns 70. – Rappler.com

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Bea Cupin

Bea is a senior multimedia reporter who covers national politics. She's been a journalist since 2011 and has written about Congress, the national police, and the Liberal Party for Rappler.