Ahead of panel vote, Umali says: End of the road for Sereno

Bea Cupin
Ahead of panel vote, Umali says: End of the road for Sereno
The impeachment committee, which Rey Umali heads, is set to vote on March 8 if there is probable cause to pursue the impeachment complaint against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno

MANILA, Philippines – Even as the House committee on justice has yet to make its final vote on the impeachment complaint against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, its chairman, Reynaldo Umali thinks it’s already the “end of the road” for the first among equals.

“I don’t understand where [Sereno is] coming from. She’s fighting it out when this is already the end of the road for her. She’s only making things difficult for the country,” said Umali on Monday, March 5, in an interview with media

The House committee on justice is set to vote on March 8, after 17 hearings to determine sufficiency in form, substance and grounds. It will finally vote on whether there is probable cause to impeach Sereno.

But even ahead of that vote, Umali confirmed that the committee is already working on arranging the complaints filed against her by lawyer Larry Gadon into articles of impeachment – this is how the case will be presented before the Senate, sitting as an impeachment court.

Why does this matter? It’s a busy week for the justice committee, as March 8 is the culmination of months of hearings, interrogations, and revelations. It is also the beginning of another long process – the impeachment trial.

Although the committee has yet to vote on whether there is probable cause, it’s widely believed that they will vote in favor of impeaching her and that the House, voting during plenary, will ultimately impeach Sereno.

The writing on the wall is clear: Umali is already talking about crafting articles of impeachment, the possible members of a prosecution team, and House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez has been saying repeatedly that there are more than enough grounds to impeach Sereno.

Meanwhile, at the Supreme Court: That Umali would say something as bold as he did on Monday is not surprising.

Last week, it was announced that Sereno would go on an early “wellness leave” after the SC en banc met. This was followed by confusion after sources privy to the en banc discussion told media that Sereno’s colleagues had actually compelled her to take an indefinite leave. Rumors were swirling that members of the High Court had actually wanted Sereno to step down from her post.

Any doubt over unease in the Supreme Court were put aside on Monday when, during the first flag ceremony without Sereno, employees and even top officials of the High Court came out wearing red – seen by many as a clear sign that the youngest and first appointee to the judiciary’s highest post is facing resistance within.

Associate justices have also appeared before Umali’s committee, during which they openly questioned Sereno’s decisions and capability to lead the SC.

On Monday, March 5, Solicitor General Jose Calida filed a petition asking the Supreme Court to declare Sereno’s appointment invalid. The SC will have to decide if it will act on it.

What’s next for the impeachment committee? On Thursday, the committee will vote on each allegation one by one. Umali said they may remove or even add the grounds against Sereno, depending on the findings they’ve made during the committee hearings.

Among the grounds that Umali highlighted include Sereno’s alleged failure to pay the right taxes, her disregard for the en banc in making decisions, and the results of her psychological examination upon applying for the post.

A vote of majority of the committee is needed for it to recommend her impeachment or the sacking of the Gadon complaint. (When voting, quota is determined by the number of regular members. The committee also counts House leaders as ex-officio or automatic members.)

It will then reach plenary the week of March 21, or the last day of session before Congress adjourns. If one-third of the House votes in favor of a committee report that recommends impeachment, Sereno will be deemed impeached. The complaint will be sent to the Senate, which will determine if Sereno is guilty or not.

The House committee on justice, meanwhile, will formalize its team of prosecutors. Umali said they will be selecting members from a pool of around 40 lawmakers. As committee chair, Umali will likely be the lead prosecutor.

They may also tap private individuals and private prosectors for the House. – 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.