VOTING 30-4, the House committee on justice found the impeachment complaint against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno sufficient in form and substance, and gave her 10 days to respond to accusations by lawyer Larry Gadon that she betrayed the public trust and was guilty of a culpable violation of the Constitution, corruption and other high crimes.
On the other hand, the panel dismissed a second complaint filed by Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption founding chairman Dante Jimenez and Vanguard of the Philippine Constitution president Eligio Mallari, for insufficiency in form by a 28-5 vote.
House Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas said Jimenez and Mallari should have done their homework before filing their impeachment complaint.
“We gave a caveat the last time…Complainants are warned that when they come here, they should follow the proper form,” Fariñas said.
Gadon said Sereno should be impeached for having assets that were not disclosed in her Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth—the same reason her predecessor, Chief Justice Renato Corona, was impeached and ultimately ousted.
Gadon also accused Sereno of extravagant spending of judicial funds, including her purchase of a Toyota Land Cruiser for P5 million and her first-class travel on airlines.
Sereno has rejected all the allegations leveled against her.
Bayan Muna Party-list Rep. Carlos Zarate argued that Gadon’s complaint be dismissed since his allegations were not based on personal knowledge.
But Fariñas backed the decision of the House justice committee, saying that Gadon was able to provide the panel at least 20 authentic records from the Supreme Court, such as certified true copies of resolutions from the Court and Sereno’s Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth, to back his allegations against the Chief Justice.
Sereno, through her spokesperson Carlo Cruz denied the allegations in the complaint and vowed to disprove them point by point.
Cruz questioned the findings of the House committee that the complaint against the chief magistrate was sufficient in form and substance when many of the allegations in the Gadon complaint are unsupported by evidence or rely mainly on hearsay consisting of newspaper clippings.
“We further understand that the determinations of the House Committee appear to be inconsistent with its findings and actions in similar proceedings in the past,” the lawyer said.
“We maintain that, contrary to the findings of the House Committee on Justice, none of the allegations in the Gadon complaint is true. For this reason, we respectfully submit that the complaint cannot be considered sufficient in form and substance,” the lawyer added.
Cruz, a lawyer specializing in constitutional and administrative laws and son of late retired Justice Isagani Cruz, said the allegations in the complaint are all not true.
“None of the allegations rises to an impeachable offense. The complaint against her seems designed to maximize the political spectacle, with the goal of eroding her credibility through innuendo and malicious allegations. This is detrimental to the independence of the judiciary upon whom all citizens rely to defend their rights and to check any abuse,” Cruz said.
He also reiterated the Chief Justice’s earlier pronouncement that she “has always lived a modest, god-fearing lifestyle” and has not violated any law.
“She has followed her oath of office and conducted herself with strict faithfulness to that oath. She has been among the foremost proponents of establishing a culture of modesty and respect for public funds in the Supreme Court. She has instituted reforms in the judiciary and has asserted and defended the independence of the judicial branch of government,” Cruz said, in the statement.
Nonetheless, Cruz assured the public that Sereno would respect the impeachment proceedings and submit her answer to the complaint while hoping for fair treatment.
“We remain hopeful that our Congress will decide based on the merits of the case, and affirm their commitment to our democracy over partisan or parochial interests. In the meantime, the Chief Justice continues to discharge her duties with fairness, integrity and humility,” he said.
“She will avail herself of appropriate legal remedies, with the hope that the mechanisms of our democratic system will afford her a fair, transparent and just opportunity to be heard,” Cruz said.
The complaints against Sereno have already been endorsed by 41 members of the House.
In a forum in Cebu City on Aug. 24, Sereno issued a general denial of the allegations in the complaints.
“I have always lived a life of modesty. I have been prudent in the use of the court’s resources. All the expenses for judicial reforms, my travels, my security, and vehicle requirements are all regular and aboveboard,” she said.
“That’s the beauty of having a clear conscience; it does not affect me at all… If I take an inordinate amount of time looking at it and being exasperated by those documents, work will not be done,” Sereno added.
With its complaint dismissed, the VACC said it would work with Gadon to support his case.
Gadon on Wednesday said he learned that three Supreme Court justices are willing to testify against Sereno if the case goes to trial in the Senate.
He did not disclose who these were, however.
Gadon had earlier said two justices were willing to testify if they were invited to do so by the House committee on justice.
He added that he was grateful for the result of the House justice panel’s vote and dismissed suggestions that is complaint was based on hearsay.
“How can they say it was hearsay when all the certified true copies of documents were shown to the committee?” he said in Filipino. With Rio N. Araja