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CJ Sereno mulls SC relief vs impeach plaint

By Julius N. Leonen

Embattled Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno’s camp claimed it is not ruling out the possibility of filing a petition before the Supreme Court (SC) to effectively halt the impeachment proceedings against her before the House of Representatives.
Sereno, who is being accused of betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the Constitution, has insistently defied the calls of her critics, including Malacaٌang itself, to just resign from her position to save the judiciary from further “damage.”
Lawyer Carlo Cruz, one of Sereno’s impeachment spokesmen, emphasized the possibility of the Chief Justice filing a petition before the SC to ask her fellow justices to relieve her from the pending impeachment case before Congress.

The Supreme Court today is not likely to butt heads with the House of Representatives, given the separation of powers principle, along with the fact that the Constitution is crystal clear on the House having the sole power to initiate impeachment proceedings.
One of the charges in the impeachment complaint was the allegation that Sereno tried to get lower court justices to defy the Hosue which issued a detention order.
Sereneo and her lawyers are probably a trying to do a Davide.
In November 2003, a constitutional crisis was brought about by the impeachment complaint against the Chief Justice Hilario Davide, Jr. but which impeachment complaint against Davide ended when the House of Representatives then under Speaker Jose de Venecia blocked the then pro-impeachment congressmen while the anti-impeachment solons voted to throw out the impeachment complaint, instead of sending the Articles of Impeachment against Davide to the Senate.
Two impeachment complaints were filed against Davide over alleged anomalies in the disbursements and expenditures of the Judiciary Development Fund. The first complaint, filed by former President Joseph Estrada in June 2003, was dismissed by the House committee on justice on October 22, 2003. A group of congressmen filed a second impeachment complaint the following day (October 23), and this complaint was eventually endorsed by at least 1/3 of the House members, mostly from the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC), which should have been sufficient to send this to the Senate for trial.
This complaint was refused by then Senate President Franklin Drilon.
The case was taken to the Supreme Court, which ruled that the second complaint was unconstitutional (the Constitution states that no impeachment proceedings shall be initiated against the same official more than once within a period of one year).
On many instances during the conduct of oral arguments, the magistrates admitted they were in a bind since they had to decide on an issue involving their very own chief justice.
Justice Artemio Panganiban earlier admitted it felt awkward for them to act on the matter though it is their duty to interpret the Constitution.
Senate President Franklin Drilon at the time said that the High Court should have settled the petitions earlier to defuse the crisis brought about by the impeachment complaint.
He claimed most of the senators wanted the Supreme Court to resolve with finality the constitutional question on the impeachment complaint filed by the 86 congressmen against Davide.
The Sereno camp meanwhile said: “It’s an option, of course,” in a text message, demonstrating Sereno’s defiance against her critics, wherein she had earlier declared to the public that resignation has never been an option for her amid the pending impeachment case hurled against her.
The option remains open, Cruz said, as their camp is still waiting for the House committee on justice’s final decision on Sereno’s plea for her to be able to cross examine the witnesses being used against her.
Sereno’s camp earlier declared that the Chief Justice will skip the impeachment proceedings at the House of Representatives if solons will deny with finality her request to cross-examine her accusers.
“There’s no plan yet to pursue it at this point. The Chief Justice and her lawyers shall make their assessment when the House committee on justice re-convenes on November 20,” he explained.
In a separate news report, Sereno was quoted stressing her the “basic right of every citizen to be defended by who she wants to be defended” during a dialog with Christian churches organized by the Philippine Campus Crusade for Christ last week.
“If this can happen to a chief justice, it can happen to anyone. If my rights are not observed, nobody’s rights are safe in this country,” Sereno was quoted as saying.
The Chief Justice also alleged that the witnesses “were being threatened” to invent stories against her.
Lawyer Larry Gadon, who filed the impeachment case against Sereno for allegedly living a “lavish” and “extravagant” lifestyle,” has said that Sereno should “just resign to avoid the humiliation and all the inconvenience of this impeachment trial.”
Malacañang, through presidential spokesman Harry Roque, has also called for her resignation to spare the judiciary of further damages from the impeachment case.
The House of Representatives committee on justice has already found the complaint sufficient in form and substance and in grounds. It is set to start hearing the charges on Nov. 20 to determine existence of probable cause and decide whether to transmit the case to the Senate for trial.
The grounds included the alleged misdeclaration in her statements of assets, liabilities and net worth by supposedly hiding her P30-million earning as government counsel in the arbitration case involving the expropriation of Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3.
The complaint also cited her supposed extravagant spending of judicial funds by purchasing a P5-million Toyota Land Cruiser and traveling on first-class flights and hotels.
It also included Sereno’s order in 2012 to reopen a regional constitutional administrative office (RCAO) in Cebu without the collegial approval of the Court, which was later on revoked by the SC.

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