25 solons endorse impeachment complaint vs Sereno

At least 25 lawmakers in the House of Representatives on Wednesday endorsed the impeachment complaint filed against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno. Photo courtesy of Atty. Larry Gadon

MANILA — Twenty-five members of the House of Representatives endorsed the impeachment complaint filed on Wednesday against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.

The complainant, lawyer Larry Gadon, filed the verified complaint at the office of the House Secretary General, having vowed earlier to get at least 10 members to endorse it.

Gadon said his complaint involved Sereno’s alleged betrayal of public trust, an impeachable offense in the 1987 Constitution, over the Supreme Court’s “whimsical” and “excessive” purchase of the latest model of the Toyota Land Cruiser amounting to P5.1 million, as well as her alleged failure to declare “exorbitant lawyer’s fees” allegedly amounting to $745,000, or P37 million.

The luxury vehicle was purchased at P5.1 million even though it was only priced at P4.5 million, Gadon said.

In an interview with reporters, Gadon said he has yet to receive all the documents he cited in his impeachment complaint.

He said he was expecting to receive copies of the chief justice’s statement of assets and liabilities networth (SALN) on Thursday.
The 25 lawmakers, including four deputy speakers, who endorsed the complaint are:

• Cebu Rep. Gwen Garcia, deputy speaker
• South Cotabato Rep. Ferdinand Hernandez, deputy speaker
• Palawan Rep. Frederick Abueg, deputy speaker
• Davao City Rep. Mylene Garcia-Albano, deputy speaker
• Coop-Natcco Rep. Anthony Bravo
• Surigao del Norte Rep. Francisco “Bingo” Matugas II
• Samar Rep. Edgar Sarmiento
• Isabela Rep. Rodolfo Albano III
• LPGMA Rep. Arnel Ty
• Pampanga Rep. Aurelio “Dong” Gonzales Jr.
• Malabon city Rep. Federico Sandoval II
• Davao Oriental Rep. Joel Mayo Almario
• Antipolo City Rep. Romeo Acop
• Quezon City Rep. Vincent Crisologo
• South Cotabato Rep. Pedro Acharon Jr.
• Camiguin Rep. Xavier Jesus Romualdo
• Palawan Rep. Gil Acosta
• Zamboanga Sibugay Rep. Ann Hofer
• Quezon city Rep. Winnie Castelo
• PBA Rep. Jericho Nograles
• Manila Rep. John “Yul Servo” Nieto
• Surigao Del Norte Rep. Robert Ace Barbers
• Southern Leyte Rep. Roger Mercado
• Davao Occidental Rep. Lorna Bautista Bandigan
• Cavite Rep. Jennifer Barzaga

The first impeachment complaint was filed by the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) and Vanguard of the Philippine Constitution Inc. (VPCI) over Sereno’s alleged culpable violations of the Constitution by allegedly bypassing the Supreme Court en banc.

But the complaint was filed without an endorsement of a House member, which means it might not be considered filed.

The impeachment complaints against Sereno gained traction after the Supreme Court allowed the release of the documents cited in those complaints.

House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez had earlier warned that he would support an impeachment complaint against Sereno because she ordered Court of Appeals (CA) justices to snub the House probe on the Ilocos Norte provincial government’s alleged misuse of tobacco excise funds, in which Gov. Imee Marcos was implicated.

Sereno allegedly told the CA justices to snub a show cause order asking them to explain why they should not be cited for contempt for granting the petition for habeas corpus of the so-called Ilocos Six.

The six provincial government officials were later released by the House.

In his complaint, Gadon accused Sereno of corruption for using “public funds to finance her extravagant and lavish lifestyle by ordering the purchase of a brand-new luxurious Toyota Land Cruiser 2017 model as her personal vehicle, amounting to more than P5 million.”

“Respondent Sereno was not content with the vehicles assigned to her, a fairly recent model of Toyota Camry sedan and a Hyundai Starex van. She wanted more,” Gadon said.

He said Sereno wanted a luxury vehicle on top of her “coterie of security personnel riding in separate vehicles and traffic escorts on two motorcycles,” which were also purchased “using Supreme Court funds.”

Gadon said Sereno was allowed to buy the latest model of the car, even though the other Supreme Court magistrates have to be contented with a Toyota Camry or a Toyota Grandia.

“Early on as Chief Justice, Respondent Sereno already took a fancy at a luxurious sports utility vehicle, the latest model of a Toyota Land Cruiser, her dream car,” Gadon said. “Thus, after some dilly-dallying, she instructed the concerned office in the Supreme Court to purchase, for her personal use, the latest model of a brand-new Toyota Land Cruiser.”

“Her ‘equals,’ the other fourteen Magistrates of the High Court, however must be content with a Toyota Camry and a Toyota Grandia, or their equivalent,” he added.

The purchase of the luxury vehicle at an “exorbitant and grossly excessive price for her personal use,” Gadon said, only showed Sereno’s “injudiciousness, lack of economy and propriety, and grave abuse of discretion.”

“Sereno even ordered the bullet-proofing of the Land Cruiser, but only withdrew when news of her impending impeachment broke out,” Gadon added.

Gadon also accused Sereno of corruption for using taxpayers’ money to “stay in opulent hotels when attending conferences in the Philippines and abroad, and flying on business or first class together with her staff and security.”

“She used public funds to flaunt her extravagance by unnecessarily bringing a huge entourage of lawyers in her supposed official foreign trips,” Gadon went on.

Gadon said Sereno committed a culpable violation of the Constitution for allegedly failing to truthfully disclose her statement of assets, liabilities, and net worth (SALN).

Gadon alleged that Sereno was “untruthful” because she “deliberately excluded” in her SALN alleged “exorbitant lawyer’s fees” amounting to $745,000, or P37 million she received from the Philippine government.

“Accordingly, the failure of Respondent Sereno to be truthful in her SALN is another instance of culpable violation of the Constitution that merits her immediate dismissal from the service,” Gadon said.

The issue of SALN declarations by magistrates is a sensitive issue since the late Chief Justice Renato Corona was convicted by Congress acting as an impeachment court for false declarations of wealth in his SALN.

Sereno is also accused of culpably violating of the Constitution when she “manipulated” the shortlist of the Judicial and Bar Council to exclude former Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza for “personal and political reasons, thereby disgracing then Sol. Gen. Jardeleza, and curtailing the President’s power to appoint him.”

“Indeed, the gross and malicious manipulation of the JBC and disgracing of Justice Jardeleza by Respondent Sereno are culpable violations of the Constitution,” Gadon said.

Gadon accused Sereno of betraying the public trust for her “strongly-worded but misplaced reply” to President Rodrigo Duterte’s narcolist implicating judges in the drug trade, urging the magistrates not to surrender to police without an arrest warrant.

He also alleged that Sereno ”prevented the Justices of the Court of Appeals to do a courtesy call on President Rodrigo Roa Duterte.”

He cited Sereno’s message supposedly attacking Duterte’s martial law imposition in Mindanao, even when petitions questioning the martial law was then pending before the Supreme Court.

“She attacked the imposition of Martial Law in a commencement address, while the validity of Martial Law was still pending before the Supreme Court, and later continued to participate in the Court’s deliberations,” Gadon said.

Gadon also accused Sereno of “usurp[ing] the mandate of the Court en banc by arrogating to herself alone the running of the Supreme Court and the Judiciary, thereby destroying the Supreme Court as a collegial body.”

Gadon also accused Sereno of committing other high crimes, when she allegedly “obstructed justice by ordering the Muntinlupa Judges not to issue warrants of arrest against Senator Leila M. De Lima.”

Sereno also allegedly “perverted justice” when she met with the presiding justice and associate justices of the Court of Appeals instructing them not to comply with the processes of the House of Representatives, which earlier issued a show cause order against the appellate justices who granted the writ of habeas corpus of the Ilocos Six.

The six provincial government officials of Ilocos Norte governor Imee Marcos had been ordered released from almost two months in House detention for contempt.

They were detained for 55 days refusing to answer questions on the House inquiry into the P66.45 million tobacco funds allegedly misspent on minicabs, buses and mini trucks.

Gadon also accused Sereno of “fail[ing] to report her extortionate attorney’s fees and pay the appropriate taxes therefor,” as well as “embellish(ing) her Personal Data Sheet (PDS) in her application for the Judiciary to overstate her credentials.”