THE fight is now out in the open.
President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday said he himself would be filing impeachment raps against Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales and Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, blaming the two for allowing themselves to be used as pawns to throw him off the presidency.
Citing “selective justice” and the “use of falsified documents” as grounds for impeachment against Morales, Duterte will let the impeachment raps against her in-law proceed, even if this means presenting his bank records to prove that she had falsified documents.
“We will file an impeachment case against her and I would tend to believe she was part of the conspiracy … (of) fabricated papers,” Duterte said of Morales.
“At the impeachment court, I will release [the evidence]. Here Conchita, see —.“
In related developments:
• The militant Akbayan Citizens Party backed Morales for doing her duty to check President Duterte.
“In a time where people cower in fear to the President’s threats, Ombudsman Morales has shown that she will do her duty without fear or favor,” secretary-general Kit Melgar said.
Several Akbayan members flocked to the Office of the Ombudsman main office in Quezon City and gave Morales a “people’s medal of valor” and “Di Takot kay Digong award” to dramatize their support to her for doing her constitutional duty to probe abuses in government, including allegations of hidden wealth in the President’s bank accounts.
• The House of Representatives’ committee on justice will begin Thursday the impeachment proceedings on the complaint filed against Sereno.
Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali, the committee chairman, said his panel’s agenda during the initial hearing was to determine the sufficiency of grounds to impeach Sereno as filed by lawyer Larry Gadon.
“We will be voting on sufficient grounds for impeachment. We will have to look at the complaint [based on] the reply and the rejoinder,” Umali said.
“If there will still be grounds after we consider all these pleadings we will vote upon it (sic) and then we will move to the next stage which is determination of probable cause.”
The House justice committee will conduct the hearing at 9:30 in the morning.
Umali said the the committee would conduct a full-blown hearing on the Sereno impeachment complaint “if the complaint is deemed sufficient.”
He also said Sereno herself would not attend today’s hearing and even her counsel’s presence was not yet required during the determination of the sufficiency of grounds of the complaint.
The Akbayan Citizens Party, composed of women and community leaders, hang a large plaque and offered messages on the Ombudsman gates and thanked Morales for a job well done in probing government excesses.
“The Ombudsman’s bravery to do her constitutional duty despite a climate of fear should be followed by other government institutions. It (just) is protecting the people from an administration that’s killing our democracy. We call for more government leaders like her, ready to defend the people,” Melgar said.
Akbayan hit Duterte for attacking the Ombudsman with allegations of corruption and selective justice.
On Tuesday, Malacañang accepted administrative complaints filed against Deputy Ombudsman Arthur Carandang by former lawmakers Jacinto Paras and Glenn Chong, and lawyers Manuelito Luna and Eligio Mallari in a bid to intimidate the Ombudsman investigation.
“The Ombudsman is just doing her job. Why crucify her for that?” Melgar said.
“If the President claims to hate corruption, he shouldn’t be hostile when the Ombudsman does what the laws require her to do when there’s a whiff of corruption. No one is above the law, especially not an abusive president,” Melgar said.
In Malacañang, the President insisted the Office of the Ombudsman “illegally obtained” their evidence against him, claiming that former Anti-Money Laundering Council director Julia Baccay-Abad, whom he accused of being romantically linked to opposition Senator Antonio Trillanes were the ones who ‘stole’ information about his bank records.
While he doesn’t have any dynamics against Sereno, the President said he would be filing impeachment raps against her, alleging her to be corrupt.
Duterte claimed Sereno did not declare the amount in her statement of assets, liabilities, and net worth from the P30-million lawyer’s fees she received from the government for representing Philippine International Air Terminals Co. Inc. in an arbitration case in Singapore in 2003.
“I’m not mad against Sereno, she did not attack me but the problem is … the law should apply to all,” the President claimed. “You miss that duty of including your earnings in your SALN.”
He also chided her supposed claims of living a simple life—which were not evident when she allegedly bought a luxury car using public funds and enjoying luxurious travel accommodations.
Duterte said he would not come to this point if the two didn’t fall for the black propaganda against him by the yellows—a reference to the Liberal Party and former President Benigno Aquino III.
“They’re the ones who started this. I did not start this ruckus,” the President said.
Duterte also unleashed tirades against Trillanes “who will bring this government or this country down to the dogs.”
He said in Filipino: “Nanguna ang g***. Patapang-tapangan. Sabi niya, “O…” Kaya unahin ko nga siya. P***** i**. Balita ko isa lang ‘yang b**** mo.”
Umali said the House justice committee has been doing its homework to determine whether the impeachment complaint filed against Sereno has basis or no basis, saying “it’s so easy to allege.”
“We will now have to weigh whether that is sufficient ground for that particular ground which is graft and corruption. As a committee have to weigh whether that particular allegations plus the answer will still weigh in and would constitute for a ground for impeachment. The [Committee Secretary of the House justice committee] is processing it now; looking into each and every allegation of the complaint,” Umali said.
Gadon accuses Sereno of violation of the Constitution, betrayal of public trust, corruption and other high crimes for her alleged litany of lapses”•including the alleged untruthful declaration of her Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth.
This developed as the camp of Sereno pressed House justice panel to assure Sereno of her right to counsel and cross-examination of witnesses during the impeachment proceedings.
In a letter submitted to the panel Wednesday, Sereno’s lawyers said the impeachment proceeding was analogous to a criminal trial, and that the right to be heard and defended by counsel in all stages of a criminal proceeding was a constitutional right guaranteed to every individual.
Umali earlier said only Sereno would be allowed to cross-examine the witnesses.
The camp of Sereno, in the letter, said the “right to be heard” was guaranteed under Section 14(2), Article III of the Constitution.
“The right to be assisted by counsel for the purpose of ensuring that an accused is not denied the collateral right to due process.”
“These rights would be rendered useless and would have no meaning if, as Chairman Umali says, the CJ’s lawyers are not allowed to conduct cross-examination, much less speak, during the hearings that may be conducted by the Committee on Justice,” lawyer Josa Deinla, spokesperson for Sereno, said.
“It would be setting an unfair, if not dangerous, precedent to rule that the lawyers of an officer subject of impeachment cannot cross-examine witnesses, let alone speak during the proceedings,” she added.
For his part, Gadon said he found “no repulsive reason why the CJ Justice would refuse to be the one to conduct the cross examination herself, anyway she is a lawyer herself and a Chief Justice at that and I am just a private lawyer.”
He said he would “abide by the House rules and whatever interpretation the chair of the committee would rule on the matter.”
“I can conduct the direct and cross examination even without representation of another lawyer. I do this as a profession so I do not mind doing it in any situation,” Gadon added.