Sereno on House panel vote: I knew the numbers were not in my favor

This story was updated to include statements from CNN Philippines' one-on-one interview with Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 8) — Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno was not surprised when the House Justice Panel ruled there was probable cause to remove her from office.

Speaking to CNN Philippines just hours after the vote on Thursday, the embattled Chief Justice said the House ruling was "not unexpected."

"I haven't really been keeping track of the numbers, but I knew from the beginning that the numbers were not in my favor and that had been repeated so many times -- countless times, in fact -- by the leadership of the House so it's not unexpected," Sereno said.

She said the Lower House had made the decision "at last," and had tried the case "long enough."

"I have always made the call that if they have any basis to find probable cause, they should forthwith send it to the Senate," she pointed out.

 

Sereno said this after the House Committee on Justice voted 38-2 that there was probable cause to impeach her.

"Throughout the probable cause hearings, this committee has gathered sufficient evidence to provide us with the ammunition to prosecute this case to its victory," the panel's chairman, Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali, said in his opening speech.

Only Representatives Kaka Bag-ao and Kit Belmonte voted against the impeachment complaint which was earlier endorsed by 25 lawmakers.

The committee's five chairpersons will draft the committee report listing the articles of impeachment to be submitted to the House plenary. Members of the committee will meet on March 14 to approve the report.

It took the panel less than a minute to reach a decision after Rep. Doy Leachon moved to dispense with the presentation of the findings, arguing these were already discussed in hearings over the past four months.

 

The initial plan was for the lawmakers to vote on each charge one by one, Umali told CNN Philippines on Wednesday.

But Rep. Alfredo Garbin pointed out that the rules say the lawmakers should "vote in totality."

As the justice panel was conducting its hearing, Sereno was speaking before members of the Philippine Women Judges Association.  The group is chaired by Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo-De Castro, a staunch critic of Sereno who had testified against the Chief Justice in impeachment hearings at the House of Representatives.

Sereno said the justice committee's hearings have been "blatantly unfair" since she was denied the right to cross-examine witnesses through her legal counsel.

She reiterated that she is waiting for the impeachment trial at the Senate.

READ: Sereno: House Justice Committee has been 'blatantly unfair'

If at least one-third of the members of the House of Representatives vote to impeach Sereno, the complaint would go to trial at the Senate.

A two-thirds vote, or 16 out of the 23 senators, is needed to convict Sereno.

Palace happy

For its part, Malacañang said it was elated by the justice panel's decision.

"Patunay na naman po ito na gumagana yung ating mga proseso na nakasaad sa ating Saligang Batas lalo na yung proseso ng impeachmant na proseso para mapanagot yung pinakamaatas na opisyales ng ating bayan," Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said in a press briefing.

[Translation: "This proves that the processes contained in the Constitution are working, especially the impeachment process where the highest officials of the country are called to task."]

Roque said the Palace will wait for the final decision of the plenary, noting that it could still overturn the panel's decision.

President Rodrigo Duterte denied any hand in Sereno's impeachment case despite previously criticizing the Chief Justice for her supposed lavish lifestyle and undeclared income.

READ: Duterte denies hand in Sereno impeachment  

In the impeachment complaint filed by lawyer Larry Gadon, the Chief Justice is accused of betraying public trust when she "attacked" several pronouncements of Duterte - including the declaration of martial law in Mindanao.

Charges against Sereno

Prior to the voting on probable cause, the panel agreed to declassify the results of Sereno's psychological test and all that was discussed in its close-door session on February 27.

READ: House panel declassifies results of Sereno's psychological test, discussion in executive session  

Umali earlier said Sereno should be impeached for betraying the public's trust in failing to disclose information on her mental condition. However, Sereno's camp maintained she is psychologically fit, adding that result of a psyhological exam is not a ground for impeachment.

Charges against Sereno_infographic  

Sereno is also accused of violating the Constitution, corruption, and other high crimes which are valid grounds for impeachment under the Constitution.

Sereno repeatedly denied the allegations and asked for the complaint to be junked.

Umali said the strongest charges against Sereno include failure to submit and discreprancies in her Statements of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALNs).

Two associate justices earlier told the House committee that Sereno should have been disqualified from running for chief justice because of issues in her SALN.

Sereno was appointed in 2012, replacing the late Chief Justice Renato Corona, the first chief magistrate in the country to be impeached. He was convicted for failing to declare his foreign bank accounts in his SALN.

CNN Philippines' Joyce Ilas contributed to this report.