MANILA, Philippines (2nd UPDATE) – Voting 30-4, the House committee on justice on Wednesday, September 13, deemed the first valid impeachment complaint against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno sufficient in form and substance.
The House panel did not give the same verdict to the second impeachment complaint against the Chief Justice, filed by the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) and the Vanguard of the Philippine Constitution.
By a vote of 5-28, committee members objected to the motion to declare the second complaint sufficient in form.
The first complaint, filed by lawyer Larry Gadon, was endorsed by 25 lawmakers. Sixteen lawmakers endorsed the second complaint, filed by VACC's Dante Jimenez and Vanguard's Eligio Mallari. (LOOK: Why petitioners want Sereno impeached)
Gadon wants Sereno impeached because she allegedly committed culpable violation of the Constitution, committed corruption, committed high crimes, and betrayed public trust for supposedly failing to consult the High Court en banc in making decisions, for supposedly failing to be truthful in her Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN), for tax misdeclarations, and for unauthorized expenses, among others.
The House committee on justice is tasked to determine if an impeachment complaint is sufficient in form and substance and if there is probable cause to pursue it. (READ: FAST FACTS: How does impeachment work?)
'No personal knowledge'
Several lawmakers opposed the motion to declare the first complaint sufficient in form and substance, arguing that Gadon did not have "personal knowledge" of the complaints against Sereno upon filing. Gadon was able to secure original documents from the Supreme Court to back his allegations after it was initially filed sans endorsers.
Dinagat Representative Kaka Bag-ao and Albay 1st District Edcel Lagman both cited the junking of an impeachment complaint against President Rodrigo Duterte earlier this year in arguing to declare the Gadon complaint insufficient in form.
But Oriental Mindoro 2nd District Representative Reynaldo Umali, chairman of the committee, disagreed, saying the Gadon complaint was "far different" from the one Magdalo Representative Gary Alejano filed against Duterte.
"In this particular case we have a private complainant in the person of Atty Gadon who did his own work, and while he may not have personal knowledge, he appended to his complaint official records... We cannot treat these complaints similarly because the circumstances are different. Let me emphasize that the verification does not limit it to personal knowledge. It also covers facts based on authentic documents and what else could be more authentic than a resolution issued by the Supreme Court," Umali said.
'Do your homework'
In the case of the VACC and Vanguard complaint against Sereno, Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas himself was among those who objected to the motion to deem the complaint sufficient in form.
While the second complaint was being tackled, it appeared that it would get the same number of votes from the committee members until Fariñas spoke up and questioned the form of the complaint.
"With deep regrets and happily for the 4, I join them in their objection because I have to be consistent, and the committee has to be consistent. Because we gave a caveat the last time... Complainants are warned that when they come here, they should follow the proper form," he said.
Fariñas was referring to the 4 lawmakers who manifested their opposition to the second impeachment complaint.
"Dapat sinusunod natin ang form natin (We should follow our form) on verification. I also register my objection and will vote accordingly," he said.
Addressing the complainants in the second impeachment complaint, ABS Representative Eugene de Vera said, "Do your homework."
Now that the Gadon complaint was found sufficient in form and substance, Sereno will be given a copy of the verified complaint. She is expected to answer the complaint within 10 days after receipt.
Her reply will be served to the complainant, Gadon. If she does not answer, she is presumed to have issued a "general denial," according to the House rules of procedure in impeachment proceedings.
Gadon may opt to file a reply within 3 days of receiving Sereno's answer.
This back and forth will be subscribed either before Umali, the committee chairman, or the House secretary general.
Umali, speaking to reporters after the hearing, said they will schedule the next hearing to decide if there is probable cause. A majority vote is needed to make this decision.