Umali: Sereno will have her day in court
This refers to Ms Solita Collas-Monsod’s article, “Knives out for Sereno” (3/10/18).
With due respect to Monsod, the impeachment proceedings against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno were initiated based on the 27 specific accusations contained in the impeachment complaint filed by lawyer Larry Gadon, which we at the House of Representatives justice committee have found to have sufficient grounds. It has nothing to do with the alleged infighting among the high court justices, or that Sereno may have simply hurt someone else’s feelings, which Monsod’s column was seemingly trying to point out.
The impeachment committee went through the complaint per allegation in 15 hearings that stretched for almost five months. We have invited more than 30 resource persons, 10 of whom are current justices of the Supreme Court, one retired Supreme Court justice, one justice of the Court of Appeals, two Sandiganbayan justices, three RTC judges, and other Supreme Court officials and employees, plus the justice secretary. It is from their testimonies, backed with documentary proof and other crucial pieces of evidence, that we based our vote finding probable cause to impeach the chief magistrate. Were it not for these probable cause hearings, the public would not have known the misdeeds of the Chief Justice.
While I cannot speak on behalf of Sereno’s colleagues in the high court who Monsod claims “are out for her head,” the committee on justice conducted our five-month long hearings based strictly on the rules enshrined in the Constitution.
Instead of vilifying the justices, Monsod should instead commend them for their courage to preserve the integrity of our constitutional processes. These justices risked public scrutiny to submit to the impeachment procedure in respect to the independent power of the House of Representatives. Their appearance is but a manifestation that checks and balances and separation of powers are at work; questioning the appearance of the justices before the impeachment committee is like questioning the Constitution itself.
In assessing the fitness of the Chief Justice to serve in her position, our objective was not merely to evaluate whether she can perform as a member of the high court but also to assess her competence to lead the Supreme Court. We are not looking at her ability to “scratch the back” of other justices, but her ability to lead and be respected by them. Having witnessed complaints from the justices, the committee now understands that Sereno seems to have failed to earn her status as primus inter pares.
If Sereno were truly fit to sit as Chief Justice, Monsod should ask why none of the 25,000 employees of the Supreme Court expressed support for her or, better still, why all 13 of her colleagues in the Supreme Court demanded that she go on indefinite leave.
On the issue of her SALNs, it is ironic that when Sereno applied for the vacancy after the removal of former chief justice Renato Corona, she acquiesced to the justness of his impeachment. Thus, she confirmed that Corona was rightfully removed for misrepresentations in his filed SALN. Now that she is accused of not declaring two real properties in her SALN from 2012 to the present and — even worse — of not having filed her SALN for years as a professor in UP, she is claiming that this is not an impeachable offense.
Monsod should remember that during the impeachment trial of Corona, the senators cited the case of court interpreter Delsa Flores who was removed from office for her failure to disclose earnings from a mere market stall in her SALN. The law must apply to all.
In the spirit of justice and fair play, we have sent numerous invitations to Sereno to appear before the committee and participate in the clarificatory hearings to be able to defend her claims and arguments. Unfortunately, she opted instead to seek another forum, and that is through the media, to air her side.
The Constitution provided for the impeachment process to ensure that the highest officials of the land remain in check, accountable and fit to remain and continue serving in office. Sereno will have her day in court, that I assure you.
For now let us focus on the facts of the case and not muddle the issue with baseless stories. The people deserve to know better.
REP. REYNALDO V. UMALI,
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