Voting 23-1, the House of Representatives’ justice committee on Tuesday dismissed the consolidated impeachment complaint filed against seven justices of the Supreme Court, declaring the allegations insufficient in substance.
The committee, led by Oriental Mindoro Rep. Salvador Leachon, decided to strike down the complaint filed by opposition lawmakers led by Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman on the motion of Siquijor Rep. Ramon Rocamora.
The 23 committee members who voted against the motion said the complaint should be dismissed as the seven justices, including Chief Justice Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, merely performed their duty when they voted for the quo warranto petition to oust Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.
The justice committee will meet on Sept. 18 to vote on the committee report affirming its decision to dump the impeachment complaint filed against the seven justices.
Last week, the House’s justice panel found sufficient in form the consolidated impeachment complaint against De Castro and Associate Justices Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Francis Jardeleza, Noel Tijam, Andres Reyes Jr. and Alexander Gesmundo.
Party-list Rep. Alfredo Garbin of Ako-Bicol, a lawyer, said the impeachment complaint failed to meet the standards on sufficiency in substance as the recital in the complaint did not constitute the offenses charged.
Garbin, member of the House Minority Bloc, said the allegation on culpable violation of the Constitution had no basis.
“At the outset, for purposes of impeachment, ‘culpable violation of the Constitution’ is defined as ‘the deliberate and wrongful breach of the Constitution’,” Garbin said.
“Further, violation of the Constitution made unintentionally, in good faith, and mere mistakes in the proper construction of the Constitution do not constitute an impeachable offense.
“It means willful violation and not violations committed unintentionally or involuntarily or in good faith or through an honest mistake of judgment.”
Quoting the opinion of Manila Standard columnist Rannie Aquino, dean of the San Beda Graduate School of Law, Garbin said: “There is nothing ‘culpable’ in the actions of the Justices in exercising their constitutionally-mandated responsibility to exercise original jurisdiction over the petitions for quo warranto as stated in Section 5, Article VIII of the Constitution.”
Cavite Rep. Strike Revilla, another member of the committee, also believed that the complaints filed against the justices should be dismissed.
“I believe these justices should not be punished for disrespecting a co-equal branch of government, and instead should be lauded for recognizing the system of checks and balances.”
Revilla said “if not, and justices may be impeached based solely on the position they take on the decision collegially reached and promulgated, the court itself will be at the mercy of politics.”
“To my mind, the recital in the complaint does not constitute the offenses charged. If at all, the facts only show how our democratic institutions and systems are designed and working accordingly.”
Rocamora believed the complaint had a basis to unseat the seven justices.
“What I am really concerned [about] is the second issue of the propriety of some of these justices, respondent justices, to sit as judges in the quo warranto case,” he said.
“To a certain effect, the judges who testified already prejudged the case in the quo warranto case. Is it true they were impartial when they decided the case?”
Lagman said the seven justices violated the Constitution because “quo warranto could not be used as a subterfuge to oust a Chief Justice.”
“The respondent justices conspired in rendering an unjust, malicious and orchestrated decision to oust Sereno,” Lagman said in his opening statement read before the House justice panel.
He said De Castro, Peralta, Bersamin, Jardeleza and Tijam committed betrayal of public trust when they refused to inhibit themselves from participating in the adjudication of the quo warranto petition despite their admitted continuing ill will, bias and prejudice against Sereno.