Umali: Sereno's violations worse than Corona's

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Metro Manila (CNN Phiilippines, March 9) — House Justice Panel Chairman Rep. Reynaldo Umali is confident they will be able to remove embattled Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno from her post.

Speaking to CNN Philippines, Umali, a former prosecutor at the late Chief Justice Renato Corona's impeachment trial, said violations allegedly committed by Sereno are worse than her ousted predecessor.

"This is even worse, kaya [That's why] I cannot imagine the senator-judges to decide in a different way," Umali said.

He said Senate, sitting as an impeachment court, convicted Corona in 2012 for omissions in his statements of assets, liabilities, and net worth (SALN)-- grounds similar to those Sereno is facing.

"Apart from non-submission of SALN, meron pang failure to disclose two properties in SALN. Mas masahol pa ito kay Chief Justice Corona," said Umali.

The House Justice Panel, voting 38-2, ruled on Thursday there was probable cause to impeach Sereno.

There are 27 allegations against the chief magistrate, which fall under four grounds of impeachment: culpable violation of the Constitution, corruption, betrayal of public trust, and other high crimes.

Among these issues are her alleged failure to file her SALN as professor at the University of the Philippines, and other omissions in her SALN.

Atty. Tranquil Salvador, a former defense lawyer and spokesman of Corona, believes the late chief justice's trial may have set some precedent for future cases.

He said it may affect how senator-judges will view the SALN charges against Sereno.

"Some of them were there in 2012, so they are aware that that was the ground that was used to convict a previous chief justice," Salvador said.

However, House Majority Leader Rudy Fariñas, who was also a prosecutor in the Corona trial, has told congressmen to make sure the case against Sereno is airtight, recalling how difficult it was then to defend badly-written articles of impeachment.

He advised would-be prosecutors it would be better to have few but strong grounds for impeachment as they only need a conviction on one ground to remove an official.

"Pagdating doon, para kaming nangangapa-ngapa doon. Napagsasabihan, napagtatawanan hanggang inalis namin ibang mga articles of impeachment," he said.

[Translation: When we arrived there, it was like we were still getting a hang of things. They told us off, laughed at us until we removed some of the articles of impeachment.]

Dinagat islands Representative Kaka Bag-ao, on the other hand, believes Corona and Sereno's issues are different.

Bag-ao was also a prosecutor in the Corona trial. She said contrary to Sereno's case, a lot of evidence was presented that proved Corona did not declare a number of assets and properties in his SALN.

"Walang evidence na hindi siya (Sereno) nagfile, in fact yung JBC result sa investigation ng qualification nya said she substantially complied with the requirements ng JBC," she said.

[Translation: There is no evidence that she didn't file, in fact the JBC results on the investigation of her qualifications said she substantially complied with the JBC's requirements.]

Alejano on Sereno vote in Plenary: It's a done deal

Meanwhile, opposition lawmaker MAGDALO Representative Gary Alejano said he is "not optimistic" the House plenary will overturn the Justice Panel's vote on Sereno's impeachment case.

"What we can do is make some discussions, interpellate the committee on their reports and then talk to some of our colleagues there but i'm not really optimistic because it's already a done deal," he said.

Alejano, however, said Sereno may have a fighting chance if she faces the impeachment court.

"As of now, we don't have that initiative (to lobby at Senate), but we have some information that the chief justice will stand a chance in the senate," said Alejano.

"But again this is purely a political process aside from being a legal process and therefore it depends on the political inclinations of the members of the Senate," he added.

Alejano said moves to delay voting on Sereno's case until the Supreme Court's decision on the quo warranto petition against her show they "have a weak case against the chief justice."

"By all means, we should already transmit that to the senate so that once and for all we can put closure to the issue and move forward," he said.

Speaking to CNN Philippines on Thursday, Sereno said she is "ready" to face the Senate impeachment court.

When asked about her preparations, Sereno said in an exclusive interview with CNN Philippines her team was "quite advanced [and] ready to go."

READ: Sereno on impeachment defense: We're 'ready to go'