Constitutional crisis in the making


is time for everyone to calm down. The Sereno impeachment train has already left the station. Its destination should now be the Senate. The House Committee on Justice should just send the Gadon complaint to the plenary of the House for a final vote. Given the super majority of the administration in that body, it is likely there are enough votes to send the complaint to the Senate for the trial. In that chamber, because of the nature of the proceeding as in fact a trial, the constitutional rights of the Chief Justice is assured. Sereno’s right to counsel and to confront witnesses, denied to her by the House Committee of Justice, will surely be respected.

Last week, the committee under its chairman, Rep. Reynaldo Umali, conducted its first hearing on the impeachment complaint. Among others, abandoning accepted practice in the House, the Committee barred non-members from participating in the hearing. Sereno’s lawyers were also prohibited from cross-examining the witnesses against her, prompting them to leave the meeting. According to Alex Poblador, this was not a walkout as they did ask the leave of Chairman Umali.

As the hearing continued, it became clear that Larry Gadon, the complainant, obviously did not have personal knowledge of the acts supposedly attributed to the Chief Justice, something he attested to when he filed the complaint. This was pointed out by members of the Committee, not necessarily pro-Sereno, when it was disclosed by Gadon himself that he acquired his information from other people. This is hearsay evidence and therefore inadmissible. Among others, a representative suggested that Gadon should not be the complainant in this case but some other personality who can better testify on the allegations.

For instance, in the alleged falsification of Supreme Court resolutions and a temporary restraining order by Sereno – Gadon, when asked whether he could personally substantiate his claim, could only mumble the names of other persons such as Associate Justice Teresita De Castro or newspaper reporter Jomar Canlas who supposedly talked to her. At one juncture, when pressed for the names of his sources, the complainant said that he could no longer remember their names. While he charges the respondent of tampering and or falsification. Gadon curiously failed to present documentary evidence to prove the allegation, such as the copies of the resolutions and decision allegedly falsified. This prompted the committee chair to require the complainant to submit a list of his sources and/or documents that may be subpoenaed.

Justice De Castro has strongly denied providing any information to Canlas. The latter has also denied that De Castro is his source and has refused to divulge his sources, invoking his rights and obligations as a journalist. Chairman Umali’s words are ominous: As reported by media, Chairman Umali suggested that among Canlas, De Castro, and Gadon, somebody was lying: “Somebody is not telling the truth. Somebody is lying . . . I will refer that perhaps to the court or probably to the [Department of Justice] to investigate.”

Justice De Castro should weigh these words of the Chair very carefully. I would not attend the hearings in the House if I were her. It’s a trap and she will be put in a compromised, unwinnable situation while also damaging irreparably Supreme Court. Wisdom and prudence should stop her from testifying. She should run away from Gadon as far as possible. Association with the complainant will taint a solid reputation built for decades and will also damage the institution she has worked for most of her professional life and one she undoubtedly loves very much.

In my view, the Supreme Court must deliberate very clearly the precedents it will create for future impeachment proceedings against other Justices if they allowed Justice De Castro to disclose internal documents. It would be open season for any of them every time the Court decide a case that powerful interests do not like.

The presence or absence of probable cause to impeach the Chief Justice is what the committee must establish. This is a constitutional duty and should not be tainted by partisanship or partiality. Due process has to be followed in such proceeding. Otherwise, it is a sham. This is what we are seeing now.

This could get even worse if Chairman Umali follows through on his threat to have the Chief Justice arrested if she does not make an appearance at the hearing. That would be a declaration of war against another branch of government. That would lay down the precedent for such coercive measures even against the President and all other impeachable officials. Ironically, such an arrest order, if restrained by the Court, can lead to a suspension for months of the impeachment proceedings against Sereno.

The truth is that the House of Representatives can decide to forego any additional process and can just send this to the Senate for trial. If that is the intention, it might be best to do that. But if the intent is to continue an unfair process in the House to embarrass the Chief Justice, such a strategy would clearly backfire.

As I have written before, in my view, there is no chance that impeachment will prosper in the Senate. I am confident Sereno will not only get the minimum votes so the two third’s majority for conviction is not reached but in fact will get a majority of Senators to vote for her acquittal. Gadon’s allegations of facts are not true; and even if they did, the offenses attributed to the Chief Justice are not impeachable as they are at their worst lapses in judgements.

It’s time for everyone to calm down and do the right thing. Dismiss the impeachment complaint or go to the Senate now for trial. Those are the good choices moving forward.

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