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House panel impeaches Philippine chief justice
By Manolo B. Jara March 09, 2018
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MANILA: Members of a powerful committee in the House of Representatives on Thursday ran roughshod over weak opposition and voted 28 to 2 with no abstentions to impeach embattled Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno for alleged culpable violation of the Constitution, betrayal of public trust and corruption.

Congressman Reynaldo Umali of Mindoro Oriental province in Southern Luzon and the chairman of the House Committee of Justice, said they found “probable cause” to impeach Sereno after holding weekly public hearings for the past five months on the issue.

Only two opposition members - Congressman Kit Belmonte of suburban Quezon City in Metro Manila and Congresswoman Arlene Bag-ao of Dinagat Island in Mindanao - disagreed with their peers who are Duterte administration allies, pointing out they found no probable cause to oust Sereno, the first woman to hold the position as chief justice.

But Majority Leader Rodolfo Farinas of Ilocos Norte in Northern Luzon expressed fear that the earliest the House could act on the impeachment resolution during the plenary could be when Congress is to resume their regular sessions sometime in May after their Holy Week break.

The impeachment case against Sereno, which was endorsed by 25 House members, was filed by lawyer Lorenzo Gadon who admitted being a supporter of then president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo now a congresswoman for her home province of Pampanga in Central Luzon.

Under the Constitution, once the House approves the imp0eachment resolution, it would refer it to the Senate which is to constitute itself into an impeachment court to try Sereno. Sereno, who went an indefinite leave at the urging of 13 of her colleagues at the tribunal so she could prepare for her defense at the impeachment trial before the Senate, however, stressed she would not resign.

On Thursday, Sereno denounced the House justice committee for not giving her the opportunity to face her accusers even as sherequested that her defense lawyers be allowed to cross-examine the witnesses but this was rejected.

“The (House) Committee on Justice has deprived me of my right to confront and cross-examine witnesses and resource persons arraigned against me is nothing but blatantly illegal,” Sereno told the members of the Philippine Women Judges Association during their 23rd annual convention at the Manila Hotel.

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