Garcia on Sereno impeachment: It's 'democracy in action'

MANILA, Philippines – House deputy speaker Cebu 3rd District Representative Gwendolyn Garcia on Monday, November 20, defended the lower House after Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno questioned if democracy was “safe” given an impeachment complaint against her pending before the House committee on justice.

“This is precisely democracy in action because it proves that any one, any public official, whether your are appointed or elected has accountability to the people,” said Garcia in a press conference.

The powerful justice committee is set to tackle the impeachment complaint on Wednesday, November 22. They will discuss whether there is probable cause to pursue the complaint, thereby forwarding it to the Senate sitting as an impeachment court.

Another deputy speaker, AAMBIS-OWA Representative Sharon Garin, also defended the House, arguing that the process of tackling the impeachment complaint alone does not mean that Sereno will be impeached and that she is guilty. “We want to hear the case and so we will proceed,” she said.

The two legislators are ex-officio members of the committee since they are ranking House members. It’s the House committee on justice that has the sole power to tackle complaints against impeachable officials. It decides, through a resolution, whether to junk or recommend impeachment. The House plenary can then reject or accept its report.

It’s the Senate that tries the impeachment official and decides if they are guilty or innocent.

Sereno is facing an impeachment complaint filed by lawyer Larry Gadon, a supporter of President Rodrigo Duterte and former lawyer to Pampanga 2nd District Representative and former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Gadon claims Sereno made decisions without the knowledge of the Supreme Court en banc, and used Supreme Court funds in excess, among others.

The chief justice has insisted that she had done nothing wrong and that the allegations against her are not impeachable offenses.

In interview, Sereno has alleged that the impeachment complaint against her is also a result of a personal grudge House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez has against her. Sereno once defended the government in a case against the Philippine International Air Terminals Co. Inc. (Piatco).

Alvarez once faces charges over Piatco and his wife’s supposedly involvement in the deal but this was eventually dismissed by the Ombudsman. Alvarez served as transportation secretary under Arroyo.

Garcia said the Piatco ties were “irrelevant.”

“If we take up a particular issue, we must focus on that issue,” she said

Garin downplayed these allegations, pointing out that the House is composed of close to 300 members who make decisions on their own. The House, however, has been accused of being a “rubber stamp Congress.” It is dominated by a supermajority of Duterte allies.

But Garin insisted that the pronouncements of other officials, including Duterte and former House member Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, would be able to sway the entire House in one go.

The committee has invited Sereno to the hearing on November 22. The chief justice’s camp has insisted that her lawyers should be allowed to represent her. Some legislators, including committee chairman Reynaldo Umali, have said that Sereno herself must show up and conduct the cross-examination.

Garin herself thinks Sereno should show up on November 22. “The trial will elucidate us on the substantial matters against her. It’s her chance to explain to the Congressman and the general public her answers to the allegations of Gadon. If I were her, I would face it if she were confident that she could answer the questions,” said Garin in a mix of English and Filipino. –