SOURCE: Press and Public Affairs Bureau
The House Committee on Justice on Thursday found the grounds of the impeachment complaint against Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno sufficient and affirmed the dismissal of the impeachment complaint against Commission on Elections (Comelec) chairman Andres Bautista.
Members of the committee voted 25-2 in approving the motion of its vice chairman, Rep. Henry Oaminal (2nd District, Misamis Occidental), finding sufficiency of grounds of the impeachment complaint filed by lawyer Larry Gadon against Sereno.
The committee members also voted 26-2 affirming its decision to dismiss the impeachment complaint against Bautista due to insufficiency in form. The vote approved the committee report and the accompanying amended House resolution junking the impeachment complaint against Bautista filed by former Negros Rep. Jacinto Paras and lawyer Ferdinand Topacio with endorsement from Deputy Speaker Gwendolyn Garcia, Rep. Abraham Tolentino (7th District, Cavite) and Rep. Harry Roque (Party list, Kabayan).
Rep. Reynaldo Umali (2nd District, Oriental Mindoro) said the committee will next determine if the complaint against Sereno has probable cause.
“We are only at the stage of determining the sufficiency of grounds to impeach. This is not yet the hearing itself that we will call because that will happen after the sufficiency of grounds had been established,” said Umali.
Umali reminded the panel that the impeachment proceedings are not the same as that of a criminal case wherein preliminary investigation is conducted.
He said the only difference lies in the penalty, which is removal for an impeached official whereas in a criminal case, the penalty is imprisonment.
Umali said the right to counsel and/or right to cross-examine is not being withheld by the committee.
“What is being asked of us is to allow the lawyers to exercise their right to cross-examine,”said Umali.
Lawyer Anzen Dy, Sereno's counsel, said they hope the committee will apply the provisions of its rules to accord Sereno the right to due process.
“Again, dito papasok yung iginigiit niya (Sereno), hindi kailangan ang subpoena dahil mayroon siyang karapatan na magpadala ng kanyang mga kinatawan para kaharapin yung mga paratang sa kanya sa impeachment proceedings. At bilang respondent mayroong siyang karapatan na harapin ang mga testigong ihaharap sa kanya ng mga complainants, mayroon siyang karapatan na i-cross-examine,” said Dy.
"If and when the House committee decides not to allow us to cross-examine the complainants' witnesses, then we will take that up with the Chief Justice and decide on our course of action. As of this point, we have to trust the committee that it will, in fact, apply all the provisions of the House rules," Dy said.
Meanwhile, Umali said the committee found the impeachment complaint against Bautista insufficient in form based on the defective verification.
The complainants attempted to cure the defect by filing a motion to admit substitute verification. This was, however, denied by the committee, said Umali.
Garcia insisted that insufficiency in form, as strictly provided in the present unamended House rules, is not a ground for dismissal of an impeachment complaint.
“And if we are to follow our own House rules, this complaint found to be insufficient in form shall be returned to the Secretary General. I am reading from Section 4, Rule 3. And upon return to the Secretary General, he shall then, with the committee’s written explanation, within three days from the receipt of the committee resolution, return such to the complainant,” said Garcia.
The committee report will be transmitted to the plenary, where it will be voted upon by House members. A vote of one-third of all House members, which is equivalent to 98 votes, would be needed to overturn the decision of the justice committee. / EAG