House panel junks impeachment rap vs. De Castro, 6 justices

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 11) — The House Committee on Justice effectively dismissed on Tuesday the impeachment complaint against Chief Justice Teresita Leonardo de Castro and six other magistrates.

In a nearly unanimous decision, the committee said the complaint was "insufficient in substance." A total of 23 lawmakers voted against the impeachment complaint. Only one, Siquijor Rep. Ramon Rocamora, moved and voted that there was a recital of facts in the offenses charged.

"The seven consolidated complaints against Chief Justice Teresita de Castro and six members of the Supreme Court are declared by this committee to be insufficient in substance and are hereby dismissed," House Justice Committee Chairman Doy Leachon said.

This recommendation will be submitted to the House plenary which will decide whether or not to uphold the committee report not to proceed with the impeachment proceedings against the justices. On September 4, the panel unanimously found the complaint sufficient in form, saying it was properly signed and verified.

Aside from the newly-appointed Chief Justice, Supreme Court Associate Justices Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Andres Reyes, Jr., Alexander Gesmundo, Francis Jardaleza, and Noel Tijam were slapped with impeachment raps on August 23. The complainants are opposition solons Albay 1st District Rep. Edcel Lagman, Magdalo Partylist Rep. Gary Alejano, and Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat.

The congressmen alleged the respondents committed culpable violation of the constitution and betrayal of public trust when they voted to grant the quo warranto petition that unseated Sereno. The complainants maintained that impeachment is the only way to unseat a Chief Justice, and that the seven justices should have inhibited themselves from the case since they showed bias against Sereno in testifying against her during impeachment hearings.

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How the solons voted

But Cavite Rep. Strike Revilla said the justices "should not be punished for respecting a co-equal branch of government" when they served as resource persons in the House Committee on Justice's hearings on Sereno's impeachment case.

"As our resource persons, they helped this committee in performing its constitutional mandate," Revilla said.

Lawmakers also said the justices should not be impeached for voting against Sereno, since they only performed their constitutional mandate to decide on the case presented to them.

"We are not in the position to judge and impeach people for deciding what they think is right," ANGKLA Partylist Rep. Jess Manalo said.

But what the justices did wrong, Rocamora said, was showing bias in hearing the petition to oust Sereno.

"To a certain effect, these judges who testified before this committee, have already prejudged the case in the quo warranto case," Rocamora said, noting that a judge "should not only be impartial but should appear to be impartial."

Lagman, one of the complainants, however said all the lawmakers who made their manifestation were prematurely deciding on whether there are grounds for impeachment, when they should only determine if "there is a recital of facts constituting the offense charged and determinative of the jurisdiction of the committee."

He also urged the justice committee "to retake the power of the House over impeachment proceedings which [has] been arrogated by the Supreme Court in the quo warranto petition" against Sereno.

The High Court's landmark ruling on May 11 was highly divisive - with legal experts and the Senate leadership maintaining that Sereno should have gone through impeachment.

The controversy is also the reason for mixed reactions to De Castro's appointment as top judge. Critics believe it was President Rodrigo Duterte's gift for De Castro's role in Sereno's ouster, a claim both the President and De Castro denied.

Duterte said he appointed De Castro since she was the most senior among the applicants, despite that she could only serve the post for less than two months. She is set to retire on October 8 upon reaching the mandatory retirement age of 70.