House to expedite impeachment raps vs. 7 justices

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This story was updated to include statements from Solicitor General Jose Calida, Oriental Mindoro Rep. Rey Umali, and law expert Tranquil Salvador.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 24) — The House of Representatives intends to move the impeachment complaint against seven Supreme Court associate justices as soon as possible, House Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo said Friday.

Speaking to the media during an event in Pampanga, the former President said she intends to acknowledge the complaint by the end of the day.

"[The Secretary General] has already transmitted the impeachment charge to my office and then they will send me the transmittal for my signature later... so that I can transmit it also today to the Rules Committee," Arroyo said.

"[This is] so that the Rules Commitee can have it read out on Tuesday," she added. "The most important thing is to expedite it one way or another so that  it does not really disturb the legislative agenda."

Opposition lawmakers filed the impeachment raps, saying the justice violated the Constitution when they voted to oust Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno through a quo warranto petition.

Four of the respondents were applicants for Chief Justice. Three of them — Associate Justices Teresita Leonardo de Castro, Diosdado Peralta, and Lucas Bersamin made the shortlist for submission to the President.

An eighth justice, Samuel Martires, also voted to unseat Sereno. He has been appointed Ombudsman and is not part of the complaint.

On top of the impeachment complaint, a private citizen named Rhia Ceralde also wrote to the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) opposing the nomination of De Castro, Peralta, Bersamin, and Associate Justice Andres Reyes Jr. as Chief Justice.

 

In a two-page letter dated August 24, Ceralde said the justices' participation in unseating Sereno and later applying to her position was "grossly unethical behavior." She also argued that the JBC was obligated to hear out the impeachment complaint first, as it could show the judges were unfit to hold office.

"The impeachment (complaint) filed against Associate Justices De Castro, Bersamin, Peralta, and Reyes are tantamount to administrative cases that bar them from being included in the shortlist to be submitted to the President," Ceralde said. "They should be disqualified from nomination to the position of Chief Justice."

Constitutional crisis?

In a statement on Friday, Solicitor General Jose Calida said the complaint "will not see the light of day."

Calida, who filed the quo warranto petition that ousted Sereno, argued that the high court was the final interpreter of the law and their final decision stood. He claimed that the impeachment complaint also endangers dissenting justices.

 

"This will reduce impeachment to a mere vengeance mechanism, far from (what) it is intended for," said Calida. "The opposition legislators should, by now, come to terms with the Supreme Court's decision in Republic v. Sereno because by constitutional design, this is how our government should work."

Oriental Mindoro Representative Rey Umali also warned of a possible constitutional crisis if the impeachment complaints against seven Supreme Court Justices prospered. Umali previous headed the Justice Committee, which also held hearings on the impeachment of Sereno before the quo warranto petition succeeded in court.

"Kasi (pito ang) finafile-an nila e. So hindi ko alam anong divisions yan. Baka hindi makafunction yang division na iyan kapag under impeachment ang mga miyembro e," said Umali.

[Translation: They're filing cases against seven justices. I don't know what the divisions are, but those divisions might not function if its members are under impeachment.]

However, law expert Tranquil Salvador disagrees. He said that impeachable officials must perform their obligations until they are convicted by the Senate, which would sit as an impeachment court.

"The very reason why the Constitution provides for (the impeachment) process is to protect these impeachable officers so they don't get to be affected by cases here and there," said Salvador. "Until such time (that) the process rolls, they could do their duties... that is why ... I don't think this would affect or hamper the operations of the Supreme Court."

Salvador served as one of the defense lawyers and spokesmen for former Chief Justice Renato Corona, who was impeached in 2011.

Either way, Umali echoed Calida's sentiment that the cases would not prosper at the lower house. He said congress has a lot on its plate before it adjourns ahead of the mid-term elections in May 2019.

"Wala na rin naman palagay kong mangyayari dahil nine months to go, and we will go into election (and) campaign mode shortly after October," he said.

[Translation: I don't even think anything will happen because we have nine months to go, and we will go into election (and) campaign mode shortly after October.]

The congressman also saw nothing unconstitutional in the decision and maintained De Castro, Peralta, Bersamin, and Reyes should stay in the running to be the country's top judge.

Salvador agreed, saying that the impeachment complaints were different from administrative or criminal complaints that could disqualify justices from the post.

"While filing of criminal cases and administrative cases against an applicant before the judicial and bar council will automatically disqualify the applicant, to my mind, an impeachment process is different from a criminal proceeding. It is different from an administrative proceeding," he explained. "It is a procedure mandated by the constitution."

However, the lawyer said that he would still defer to the JBC on the matter.

CNN Philippines Correspondents Anjo Alimario and Joyce Ilas contributed to this report.