This photo, taken Aug. 28, 2014, shows Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno answering questions from reporters at a press conference at in Intramuros, Manila. (Photo by RAFFY LERMA / Philippine Daily Inquirer)
It’s up to Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno if she would want to defend herself in the House of Representatives committee hearings that would tackle the impeachment complaint lodged against her, a House official said Tuesday.
In an interview with reporters, Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali said the justice committee, which he chairs, will try to expedite its deliberations, which are scheduled for Wednesday, on the two impeachment complaints duly endorsed by 41 lawmakers against Sereno.
Asked if the justice committee would compel Sereno to appear, Umali said that would be well within the right of the chief justice whether or not she would want to attend the impeachment committee hearings.
“If she wants to appear, then of course we most welcome that,” Umali said. “It’s her constitutional right to confront the witnesses. Her presence there would give her that opportunity to question or to raise issues about certain or clarifications of some of the alleged acts committed which are supposed to be violative of the Constitution or would constitute as grounds for impeachment.”
Umali said the justice committee would review the complaints and determine whethere it would be sufficient in form and substance, applying the rule on the dismissed impeachment complaint against President Rodrigo Duterte, which required the complainant’s personal knowledge.
The committee would ask the complainants so that each member would determine the sufficiency in form and substance of the complaints.
“Sufficient in form means that there is a complaint, there is a verification, which verification is in accordance of how they verified it – meaning they must have personal knowledge and or the allegations therein are based on authentic documents,” Umali said. “So we will try to determine whether the complainant has personal knowledge or that the allegations are supported by authentic documents.”
He said the justice committee would tackle the testimonies of witnesses after the determination of form and substance.
“Once it has been established na mahaba na yung usapan or ma-establish na yung discussion has been extensive enough for us to make a decision, then as chair of the committee, we’ll try to already butt in and try to get the votes of the members and abbreviate the proceedings,” he said.
Umali said the committee would first tackle the impeachment complaint against Sereno before the complaint against Commission on Elections Chairman Andres Bautista.
Sereno is facing impeachment complaints for alleged culpable violation of the Constitution, betrayal of public trust, and corruption for purportedly bypassing the Supreme Court en banc in creating new offices, her “whimsical” and “excessive” purchase of the P5.1 million Toyota Land Cruiser, and her alleged failure to declare “exorbitant lawyer’s fees” allegedly amounting to $745,000, or P37 million.
Umali earlier hinted at a “creeping” impeachment proceeding, once the impeachment complaints get the support of one third of all the House members.
But Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez denied such a move, adding that the complaints would have to be scrutinized first in the House.
Under the Constitution, an impeachment complaint may hurdle the House justice committee and proceed to trial in the Senate sitting as an impeachment court if it gets support from a third of the House members.
In an impeachment proceeding, the House acts as the prosecuting panel while the Senate acts as an impeachment court.