Ousting Sereno: House justice panel chair reveals 3 of 7 articles of impeachment

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 16) — The House Committee on Justice wants to impeach Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno for violations in her Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) – on top of six other grounds.

The panel's chairperson, Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali, on Friday revealed to CNN Philippines some of the articles of impeachment in the committee's draft report.  He said some were not part of the original complaint filed by lawyer Larry Gadon.

Umali said the report, drafted by the panel's vice chairpersons, is almost done and the committee will vote on it on March 19. The panel deferred the vote last week because the document was not yet ready.

Quoting the draft resolution setting forth the articles of impeachment, Umali said Sereno must be impeached for violating the Constitution, betraying public trust, and committing other high crimes when she "deliberately failed" to file her SALNs 17 times.

READ: SC justices: Sereno's failure to submit SALN should have disqualified her application as CJ  

The panel said Sereno had no SALNs for the years 1987 to 1997, 1999 to 2001, and 2003 to 2006, when she was still teaching at the University of the Philippines.

It also noted that Sereno excluded from her SALN two properties she owned in Bataan and Davao City.

Umali said issues in her SALN were the strongest charges against Sereno, noting that Sereno's predecessor, the late Renato Corona, was impeached for omissions in his SALNs.

Umali, who served as prosecutor in the Corona trial, earlier said Sereno's violations were even worse than those of Corona's.

"This is a sequel of the previous impeachment... there were two properties undisclosed but more than that, there were 17 SALNs not filed.  This is even worse," Umali said.

READ: Umali: Sereno's violations worse than Corona's

In a phone interview with CNN Philippines, Jojo Lacanilao, a spokesperson for Sereno,said the alleged non-filing of SALN was not relevant to the impeachment case since it was allegedly committed when Sereno was just a UP professor and not an impeachable official.

He also denied that Sereno had undeclared properties.

The Solicitor General had filed a quo warranto petition asking the Supreme Court to void Sereno's appointment for failing to file her SALN, a requirement of the Judicial and Bar Council for those applying for the post.

JBC Executive Director Annaliza Ty-Capacite in a February 12 hearing told lawmakers the body considered as "substantial compliance" Sereno's submission of three SALNs, covering 2009, 2010, and 2011.

In an exclusive interview with CNN Philippines on March 8, the day the justice panel found probable cause to impeach Sereno, the embattled chief justice said, "many wrong things were said about my SALN."

She said she would answer these once her case reaches the Senate for trial, as she did not want to preempt her defense.

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 conviction in just one article is enough to oust Sereno.

Abuse of power

Umali said another article of impeachment involved several instances of abuse of power by Sereno as ex-officio JBC Chairperson.

These include her alleged hand in excluding Court of Appeals (CA) Associate Justice Fernanda Lampas-Peralta from the shortlist of nominees for the position of CA presiding justice.

Peralta's husband, Supreme Court Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta, revealed this in one of the hearings.

Lacanilao denied the accusation, saying the JBC only implemented its rules.

"Under the Sereno chairmanship, hinigpitan na nila yung mga rules kasi dati very lax sila (They were stricter with the rules because they were very lax before)," he said.

Undermining Congress

In another article, the justice panel accused Sereno of undermining and disregarding the separation of powers among the three branches of government on several occasions, Umali said.

The panel said Sereno interfered when she advised CA justices on the handling of their standoff with lawmakers over the detention of six Ilocos Norte government employees, or the "Ilocos 6," who were accused of misusing tobacco funds.

CA justice: Sereno intervention in 'Ilocos 6' case shows 'lack of delicadeza'

The panel also noted that Sereno disrespected impeachment proceedings which she refused to attend.

But Lacanilao said it was the lawmakers who rejected Sereno's request to allow her lawyers to examine witnesses on her behalf.

All in all, Sereno is accused of violating the Constitution, corruption, betrayal of public trust, and other high crimes - grounds for impeachable officials to be removed under the Constitution. She repeatedly denied the allegations and asked for the complaint to be junked.

CNN Philippines' Joyce Ilas contributed to this report.