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Politikos praise, slam House panel’s Sereno impeach vote

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By: Xave Gregorio

Politikos are divided on the House justice committee finding probable cause to impeach Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, with some slamming, others hailing, and a few more erring on the safe side, depending on which part of the political spectrum they stand on.

President Rodrigo Duterte’s allies in the House justice committee have nothing but praises for their vote to recommend Sereno’s impeachment, which they saw as necessary as they allege that the Chief Justice committed “misdeeds and violations of law.”

House leaders Reps. Aurelio Gonzales and Anthony Bravo, in urging their fellow members of the justice committee, maintained that Sereno is no longer fit to sit in the judiciary.

Deputy Majority Leader and Pampanga 3rd District Rep. Gonzales said they must “vote in favor of the truth” and ensure that “the chief magistrate remains accountable and fit to lead the third branch of government.”

Meanwhile, Deputy Minority Leader and COOP-NATCCO Rep. Bravo said Sereno could no longer be trusted after everything that has been revealed in the 15 marathon hearings conducted by the House justice committee over the course of five months.

Among these revelations are Sereno’s alleged failure to file complete statements of assets, liabilities and net worth, and her supposed failure to pay taxes on her income from being the government counsel for the Philippine International Air Terminals Company Incorporated case.

Opposition lawmakers in the justice committee, however, are not as pleased with the result of the voting.

In a memorandum submitted to the House justice committee, Quezon City 6th District Rep. Belmonte and Dinagat Islands Rep. Bag-ao assailed the panel for allowing pieces of evidence which they said are not relevant to the complaint of abogado Larry Gadon.

They also maintained that probable cause does not exist in any of the allegations raised by Gadon.

Bag-ao, in a prepared statement on her vote against finding probable cause, said the issues raised against Sereno are not impeachable and could have been settled among feuding justices instead.

“Nag-team building na lamang sana sila o kaya nagpasahan ng kandila sa retreat kagaya ng mga grupo ng taong may hindi pagsang-ayon sa isa’t isa,” she said.

She added that the justices who came to the House of Representatives to testify against Sereno actually delivered statements which exonerated the Chief Justice.

The Makabayan bloc also said there is no probable cause to impeach Sereno and called it a move of Duterte and his allies’ “orchestrated and systematic maneuvering … to force the CJ to just resign.”

“It is also a sign that even after several months of hearing the same, the Committee has found nothing on CJ to impeach her,” they said in a statement.

Akbayan Rep. Tom Villarin said the House of Representatives will experience a “monumental meltdown” at the impeachment trial at the Senate “as no impeachable offenses have been committed by CJ Sereno, only lapses in character despised by other Justices and demonised by this administration.”

“With her impending impeachment trial in the Senate, the public will now know how the administration used power to crucify those who stand for truth,” Villarin said.

But an impeachment trial at the Senate still seems blurry, with House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and House Majority Leader Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas saying they would rather wait for the Supreme Court’s ruling on the quo warranto petition filed by the Office of the Solicitor General seeking to void Sereno’s appointment on the grounds that she failed to meet the requirements set by the Judicial and Bar Council.

House opposition leader Rep. Edcel Lagman, however, said that while the justice committee has found probable cause, House leaders are “procrastinating” because they want to delay forwarding to the Senate “a weak Articles of Impeachment.”

While the stance of House members are relatively clear cut, senators, who would stand as judges in the impeachment trial should it reach the Senate, have not explicitly aired out their opinion on the justice committee finding probable cause.

Senator Gringo Honasan, who has sat as a judge during the trial of the late Chief Justice Renato Corona, said the public should assume that the process would be fair and non-partisan to restore the strength of the country’s “damaged institutions.”

“Dapat magtiwala tayo sa sistema at proseso until proven otherwise,” Honasan said in a text message.

Another judge during Corona’s trial, Senator Chiz Escudero, however, said “politics will always play a role” in the voting on Sereno’s impeachment.

“The House is a political and not a judicial body,” Escudero said.

Among the would-be first-time impeachment judges is Senator Nancy Binay, who said she is not excited for the possible trial at the Senate as it can delay deliberations on proposed measures.

“Ang dami naming trabaho. Naka-pending ang Universal Health Care [Bill,] may [Bangsamoro Basic Law,] so ang daming made-delay dahil uunahin namin ang pagiging impeachment court,” Binay said.

She said she is also not a fan of the impeachment process, as it proves to be “very divisive.”

The House justice committee, dominated by President Rodrigo Duterte’s allies, voted 38-2 to recommend the impeachment of Sereno.

Committee vice chairs Reps. Vicente Veloso, Doy Leachon, Henry Oaminal, Arnulfo Fuentebella and Strike Revilla would now form a panel which would craft the committee report and the articles of impeachment. They have until Wednesday next week (March 14) to finish these and present them to the committee for another round of voting.

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