House panel takes up impeachment complaints vs SC justices

MANILA, Philippines – The House committee on justice on Tuesday, September 4, will begin deliberating on the impeachment complaints filed against Supreme Court (SC) Chief Justice Teresita Leonardo de Castro and 6 associate justices. 

The first hearing will be held at the Belmonte Hall at the Batasang Pambansa at 9:30 am Tuesday.

The panel led by Oriental Mindoro 1st District Representative Salvador Leachon will first determine if the impeachment complaints are sufficient in form. If lawmakers deem the complaints are sufficient in form, they will then deliberate on the sufficiency of substance. Otherwise, the impeachment complaints will be junked.

On August 23, 4 opposition lawmakers filed impeachment complaints against De Castro and the following 6 SC justices who voted to oust Maria Lourdes Sereno as chief justice through a quo warranto petition:

At the time of filing, De Castro was still an associate justice. President Rodrigo Duterte appointed her as Chief Justice on August 25. She retires on October 6. (READ: De Castro impeachment ‘moot and academic’ when she retires)

The impeachment complaints against the SC justices were filed by the following:

The opposition legislators argued the 1987 Constitution only allows the removal of impeachable officials like the chief justice through impeachment by the House, then conviction by the Senate, sitting as an impeachment court.

Section 2, Article XI of the Constitution says: “The President, the Vice President, the Members of the Supreme Court, the Members of the Constitutional Commissions, and the Ombudsman may be removed from office, on impeachment for, and conviction of, culpable violation of the Constitution, treason, bribery, graft and corruption, other high crimes, or betrayal of public trust. All other public officers and employees may be removed from office as provided by law, but not by impeachment.”

How did the SC justices allegedly violate the Constitution? All 7 justices are accused of violating the 1987 Constitution primarily because of 4 reasons.

First, the lawmakers argued the justices were “fully aware” that impeachment is the only mode to remove impeachable officials, like the chief justice, under the Constitution. The legislators said this is “buttressed by the wealth of relevant jurisprudence of no less than the High Court and the pertinent deliberations in the Constitutional Commission on the same issue.” 

Secondly, a quo warranto petition, like the one filed against Sereno by Solicitor General Jose Calida, is “anathema to the unequivocal mandate of the Constitution” that the power to impeach is solely vested with the Congress.

Third, in its majority decision, the SC said the Constitution’s use of the word “may” allowed the Court to use an alternative option to remove Sereno. But Lagman’s bloc said the justices “violated the unmistakable context and intent” of Section 2.

Fourth, the legislators also argued the justices were guilty of violating the Constitution because they “usurped” the constitutional power of the Judicial and Bar Council to vet and nominate applicants to judicial positions. (READ: Sereno impeachment: Cracks in the Supreme Court)  

How did the SC justices allegedly betray public trust? De Castro, Peralta, Bersamin, Tijam, and Jardeleza are also charged of betrayal of public trust.

The legislators argued this was because they refused to inhibit themselves from voting on the quo warranto petition after testifying against Sereno during the impeaching hearings of the House committee on justice. (READ: Justices on Sereno 'transgressions': Until when will we suffer?)

Lawyer Larry Gadon filed an impeachment complaint against Sereno in 2017, but it was later deemed "moot and academic" by the House when the SC nullified her appointment.

The lawmakers said the 5 justices’ testimonies showed their “patent and continuing ill will, bias and prejudice” against Sereno. 

They further said that “unethical ulterior motives” drove De Castro, Peralta, and Bersamin to oust Sereno. 

“With the removal of Sereno, a vacancy was created in the position of chief justice. These justices were expected to vie for said position as in fact they are,” said the lawmakers. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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