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House panel postpones vote on impeachment report

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Maria Lourdes P.A. Sereno
File photo of Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes P.A. Sereno -- PHILSTAR

By Minde Nyl R. dela Cruz

THE HOUSE PANEL tackling the impeachment case of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes P.A. Sereno postponed its scheduled approval today of its committee report and articles of impeachment to next week, two days shy of the congressional break.

In an interview with reporters on Tuesday, Oriental Mindoro Representative Reynaldo V. Umali, chair of the justice committee at the House of Representatives, said the postponement was due to differences on the contents of the articles of impeachment.

“Hindi namin natapos ’yung articles of impeachment kasi hindi kami magkasundo kung ilan ’yung [grounds na] isasama and… ang gusto nung iba, comprehensive talaga to show na this is really a very strong case and I believe so too,” Mr. Umali said.

(We were not able to finish the articles of impeachment because we couldn’t agree on how many [grounds] will be included and… others want it to be comprehensive to show that this is really a very strong case and I believe so too.)

“The whole idea is to present it as comprehensive as we could, then we’ll just cross the bridge when we get there; probably remove some that may not be that strong, pero (but)… when you look at it in its totality, doon lumalabas ’yung persona niya eh. Doon lumalabas ’yung psychiatric or psychological disorder eh (her persona shows, the psychiatric or psychological disorder shows),” Mr. Umali added, referring to a psychiatric report on Ms. Sereno.

Clinical psychologist Geraldine E. Tria had earlier testified in an executive session that Ms. Sereno showed signs of “dramatic and emotional type of personality.” Ms. Sereno also reportedly got a low score of 4 out of 5 in her psychological exam.

Mr. Umali said the committee would have been ready to present the articles of impeachment “maybe on Monday [March 19], more or less, but at the latest, Tuesday [March 20].” The last session day before the Holy Week break is on March 21.

“Basta Monday or Tuesday, we will already have the articles of impeachment, ready for (a vote by) the committee on justice…and on the next day we will be ready to submit it to the rules or to the plenary through the rules committee,” he said.

Mr. Umali added that the report will be taken up in the plenary in May “because the rules committee will not have the time to really go over this and as [Majority Leader Rodolfo C. Fariñas] was already explaining, he really wants to see the output before he puts (this) to a vote also in plenary,” he said in English and Filipino.

Asked which grounds will likely be included in the articles of impeachment, Mr. Umali said: “Definitely ’yung (the) failure to disclose assets in the SALN (statement of assets, liabilities, and net worth) and the no SALN.”

“Mayroon pa kaming (We also have) arguments about whether this will affect ’yung (the) quo warranto because these are also the grounds for quo warranto but as pointed out, (this is) sui generis. This is a class of its own, so it really need not be pegged on any pending matter before the Supreme Court,” he said, referring to Solicitor-General Jose C. Calida’s quo warranto petition before the Supreme Court questioning the validity of Ms. Sereno’s appointment.

Mr. Umali also cited allegations of tax evasion and corruption issues, particularly on the procurement of a Land Cruiser as Ms. Sereno’s personal vehicle and her alleged opulent lifestyle.

For some opposition lawmakers, the postponement of the scheduled voting is proof that the case against Ms. Sereno is weak.

In a press briefing, Albay Representative Edcel C. Lagman said: “From the very start, the complaint filed by [lawyer Lorenzo G. Gadon] was weak. And despite the fishing expedition made by the committee on justice, they have not strengthened the feeble grounds against the Chief Justice.”

AKBAYAN party-list Tomasito S. Villarin, for his part, said the separate graft charges filed by Mr. Gadon against Ms. Sereno’s staff “is an indication that they have a weak case against the Chief Justice.”

“I think even in the House, the members of the justice committee are not in unity on what charges should be filed. Some want to have all 27 charges included in the impeachment complaint, others just want to focus on three or four charges. So it really shows that even the justice committee is unsure whether the impeachment case stands on solid ground,” Mr. Villarin said.

Mr. Gadon filed an impeachment complaint against Ms. Sereno last year, accusing her of culpable violation of the Constitution, corruption, betrayal of public trust, and other high crimes. After four months of hearing, the justice committee in a vote of 38-2 on March 8 said the complaint had probable cause.