Justice Panel Chair denies fishing for evidence vs. CJ Sereno

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House Justice Committee Chairman Rep. Reynaldo Umali. (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 23) — The House Justice Committee chairman denied allegations that his panel is merely fishing for evidence against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.

"This is not like just a simple case na walang ebidensya na nagpi-fish ka nga ng ebidensya — in this case, nandoon e. Merong administrative matter," Rep. Reynaldo Umali, the panel's chair, said in an interview Thursday.

[Translation: This is not like just a simple case that there's no evidence and you're fishing for it, in this case, it's there. There is administrative matter.]

Sereno is facing impeachment in the House of Representatives, after complainant Atty. Larry Gadon alleged the Chief Justice of culpable violation of the Constitution, among other grounds.

But after an almost 10-hour hearing on Wednesday, House Justice Committee Chairman Rey Umali admitted some of Gadon's allegations were based on hearsay and incomplete documents.

Umali clarified this detail does not matter.

"Irrelevant dito ang complainant. Ang mas importante dito ang witnesses na we will call because they are the ones who have the personal knowledge of what transpired during these incidents covered by these administrative matter resolution," he said.

[Translation: The complainant is irrelevant. What's important are witnesses that we will call because they are the ones who have the personal knowledge of what transpired during these incidents covered by these administrative matter resolution.]

In 2016, the same house panel junked the impeachment complaints against President Rodrigo Duterte, Comelec Chairman Andy Bautista, and another complaint against Sereno because the complainants had no personal knowledge of the allegations in their complaints and were not based on authentic documents.

The Makabayan bloc in the House, the group of leftist congressmen, called on the panel to stop the impeachment proceedings. The bloc believes Gadon is only taking the House Committee on Justice for a ride with his hearsay allegations.

"Panawagan natin sa Committee on Justice at House leadership na batay sa nangyari kahapon, itigil na ang circus ng impeachment hearings," ACT Teachers Party-list Rep. Antonio Tinio said in an interview. "Bakit magpapagamit ang Committee on Justice na mag-produce ng dokumento?"

[Translation: We call on the Committee on Justice and House leadership that based on yesterday's proceedings, we stop the circus that is the impeachment hearings. Why should the Committee be used to produce documents?]

But the leftist lawmakers agreed impeachment will be brought to the Senate because of Congress supermajority, which is supported by President Rodrigo Duterte. Duterte had previously called on Sereno to resign.

In an interview on CNN Philippines' The Source, Umali said the panel's decision will depend on their vote.

"Unfortunately for the Chief Justice, there is a supermajority in the House that seems to be interested in pursuing this," Umali added.

To verify Gadon's allegations, the House Justice Committee will invite in the next hearing Associate Justice Teresita De Castro, Supreme Court Spokesman Theodore Te, and other court personnel knowledgeable about his allegations.

CNN Philippines Correspondent Joyce Ilas contributed to this report.