House panel junks impeachment complaints vs SC justices

Mara Cepeda
House panel junks impeachment complaints vs SC justices
(2nd UPDATE) A total of 23 lawmakers find the impeachment complaints insufficient in substance. Siquijor Representative Ramon Rocamora is the only legislator who voted in favor of the complaints.

MANILA, Philippines (2nd UPDATE) – After two hearings, the House committee on justice rejected the impeachment complaints filed against Supreme Court (SC) Chief Justice Teresita de Castro and 6 associate justices.

On Tuesday, September 11, a  total of 23 lawmakers found the impeachment complaints insufficient in substance. Siquijor Representative Ramon Rocamora was the lone legislator who voted in favor of the impeachment complaints.

It was only a week ago when the lawmakers deemed the impeachment complaints sufficient in form with a vote of 21-0.

Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo also attended the hearing, but she left after a few minutes without making any manifestation.

Opposition lawmakers had filed the impeachment complaints against De Castro and the following associate justices for voting in favor of the quo warranto petition that nullified the appointment of Maria Lourdes Sereno as chief justice in May: 

  • Diosdado Peralta
  • Lucas Bersamin
  • Francis Jardeleza
  • Noel Tijam
  • Andres Reyes Jr
  • Alexander Gesmundo

The complainants are Albay 1st District Representative Edcel Lagman, Magdalo Representative Gary Alejano, and Ifugao Representative Teddy Baguilat Jr.

They accused all 7 SC justices of culpable violation of the Constitution for voting yes to the quo warranto petition filed by Solicitor General Jose Calida against Sereno.

De Castro, Peralta, Bersamin, Tijam, and Jardeleza were also accused of betrayal of public trust for refusing to inhibit themselves from voting on the quo warranto petition after testifying against Sereno at the impeachment hearings against her.

The same House panel conducted the hearings on Sereno. The House committee on justice approved the articles of impeachment against Sereno, but the SC decision on the quo warranto petition later rendered the document “moot and academic.”

How did the justice panel defend its position? A majority of the justice committee members did not agree with Lagman, Alejano, and Baguilat.

Angkla Representative Jesulito Manalo said the SC justices “merely acted within the metes and bounds of judicial power set by the Constitution.”

“Were they not just being faithful to their duty to settle an actual controversy and determine grave abuse of discretion? By proceeding with these complaints, will we not encroach upon judicial independence?” asked Manalo.

Cavite 2nd District Representative Strike Revilla also said the SC justices should not be punished for “respecting a coequal branch” when they testified against Sereno before the committee on justice.

“Instead, [they] should be lauded for recognizing the system of checks and balances. As resource persons, they helped this committee in performing its constitutional mandate…. The 5 justices had, in fact, recognized the supremacy of the people, exercised through their duly chosen representatives,” said Revilla.

Only Rocamora agreed with the complainants’ arguments. He said that the justices’ testimonies before the justice panel already showed their bias against Sereno.

“But what I’m really concerned [about] is the second issue of propriety of some of these justices, respondent justices, to sit as judges in the quo warranto case…. To a certain effect, the judges who testified already prejudged the case in the quo warranto case,” said Rocamora.

“Is it true they are impartial when they decided the case?” he asked.

How did Lagman rebut the committee members’ arguments? Lagman told his colleagues “not to place the cart before the horse.” 

He reminded them that the panel is still at the stage of determining the sufficiency of substance, not on the determination of probable cause or grounds of impeachment yet.

Lagman also argued that he, Alejano, and Baguilat are not questioning the constitutional mandate of the SC to decide on legal questions.

“What we are saying here is that the decision of the Supreme Court was not judicious; it was malicious. It was not fair but capricious. And it was not collegial but conspiratorial. Those are ultimate allegation of facts, which should be determinative of the jurisdiction of this committee,” said Lagman. 

He also clarified the complainants are not seeking a reversal of the SC decision against Sereno. 

“What we are saying that impeachable offenses have been committed by 7 justices and they should be made accountable to the people,” said Lagman. 

But in the end, the committee on justice did not heed Lagman’s arguments and moved to deem the impeachment complaints insufficient in substance. – Rappler.com 

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Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.