On August 30, 2017, Duterte Youth lawyer Lorenzo Gadon filed an impeachment complaint with the House of Representatives against Supreme Court Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno. About two weeks after, on September 13, 2017, the House Committee on Justice found Gadon’s impeachment complaint to be sufficient in form and substance.
IMPEACHMENT COMPLAINT GROUNDS
Tax/SALN evasion – Gadon claims that Sereno earned $745,000 as legal fees for the PIATCO case but failed to report the amount in her Statement of Assets and Liabilities (SALN) nor did she report the income to the Bureau of Internal Revenue.
Manipulation of the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) – Gadon claims that Sereno manipulated judicial appointments for personal and political reasons. In the SC decision Jardeleza v. Sereno, Justice Arturo Brion wrote in his concurring opinion, “CJ Sereno manipulated the JBC process to exclude Jardeleza as a nominee.” Brion accused Sereno of assassinating Jardeleza’s character in her Supplemental Comment, allegations Jardeleza could no longer refute given the time and stage of the proceedings. Justice Jardeleza narrated his “near death experience” with Sereno in his commencement address with the UP Law Class of 2015.
Interfering with judges and justices’ cases – Sereno allegedly had a SC official call Muntinlupa judges to tell them not to issue warrants of arrest against Senator Leila de Lima because she was a sitting senator. She also ordered Court of Appeals justices to ignore and defy the House show cause order on the “Ilocos six.”
Lack of bidding – Sereno allegedly hired a SC ICT consultant for PhP 250,000.00/month without public bidding.
Falsifying CV – Sereno stated in her Personnel Data Sheet that she was Deputy Commission for the Commission on Human Rights when there is no such position. She also stated she was a lecturer at the Hague Academy of International Law, but this was not true.
On September 25, Sereno’s lawyer, Alex Poblador, filed her verified answer to the impeachment complaint. Sereno claimed that the legal fees she received from PIATCO were used to purchase assets, which she reported in her SALN when she became a government official in 2010. She also claims she was following JBC rules when Jardeleza’s appointment was blocked. JBC rules require a unanimous JBC vote when a nominee’s integrity is challenged. Because Sereno challeged Jardeleza’s integrity, Jardeleza was not able to get a unanimous JBC vote for appointment as Justice. Jardeleza questioned this before the Supreme Court, which decided in his favor. Jardeleza was subsequently appointed as SC justice. More on Sereno’s answer here.
The House Committee on Justice will now vote on whether there is probable cause to impeach Sereno. Thereafter, the House of Representatives will vote on whether they accept or reject the Committee’s report. If at least a third of the members of the House (98 of 292) vote to approve the Committee report, they will constitute the Articles of Impeachment which will be transmitted to the Senate, who will hear the case as an impeachment court.
Two male justices of the Supreme Court are allegedly willing to testify against Sereno, according to complainant Gadon. House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez said that, although the majority has more than enough numbers to send the complaint directly to the Senate, he wants the House Committee on Justice to deliberate on the bill. House Speaker Alvarez said, “I want to be fair, and before we bring it there… before it is transmitted to the impeachment court, we have to be sure that the evidence will stand trial in an impeachment court.”
Then Kabayan party-list representative Harry Roque (now presidential spokesperson) said that if all goes well, the impeachment complaint will reach trial at the Senate by January next year.
On October 30, House Speaker Alvarez called on Chief Justice Sereno to personally appear before Congress so she can be given the opportunity to cross-examine the witnesses in the impeachment complaint against her. Sereno’s lawyer, Jose Deinla, disagreed, saying: “Under the Constitution, the Chief Justice has the right to be defended by her lawyers as an accused… And only she can decide if she will exercise this right or not. Because she is the respondent or accused, she cannot be treated as an ordinary resource person to be invited by Congress.”
Sereno carries the distinction of being the first female Chief Justice, the second youngest and probably the only chief magistrate whose term could span four administrations – from Aquino, Duterte and two others who will be elected in 2022 and 2028.