House panel to hear impeachment raps vs. 7 justices next week

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 27) — The House of Representatives will be taking up the impeachment raps against seven justices by next week.

House Justice Committee Chair Doy Leachon told CNN Philippines' The Source that he is expecting to receive the complaints by Tuesday, and give congressmen one week to review the material. The hearing is set for 9:00 a.m. on September 4.

"Our target would be to meet the first committee hearing on the impeachment complaint by September 4," Leachon said.

"I am assuring 100 percent impartial ang committee at transparent tayo dito," he added.

[Translation: I am assuring (that) the committee will be 100 percent impartial and transparent here.]

Albay 1st District Rep. Edcel Lagman, Magdalo Partylist Rep. Gary Alejano, and Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat filed complaints against seven Supreme Court Associate Justices on August 23. The subjects of the raps are Associate Justices Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Andres Reyes, Jr., Alexander Gesmundo, Francis Jardaleza, Noel Tijam, and newly appointed Chief Justice Teresita Leonardo-De Castro.

The congressmen alleged the respondents committed culpable violation of the constitution and betrayal of public trust over the judges' decision to unseat former Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno through a quo warranto petition. The landmark ruling was highly divisive — with the Integrated Bar of the Philippines 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. A vocal critic of Sereno, De Castro even testified against her in House hearings before voting to oust her.

While Leachon respects De Castro's appointment, he says he understands the criticism that the high court should have let the impeachment process run its course.

"The other issue is whether an error of judgment can be viewed as an impeachable offense," he added.

The House panel is first expected to deliberate on whether the complaints are sufficient in form, and then whether they are sufficient in substance.

"Substance is determined by the allegations or recital of the allegations in the complaint, determinative of the jurisdiction of the committee. Then let's proceed from there," said Leachon.

Baguilat and company further argued that the complaint should have disqualified four justices — including De Castro -- from the shortlist for Chief Justice.

However, Leachon said that the issue was moot and academic since De Castro was already appointed. He maintained that the complaint did not reach the House of Representatives in time for it to be considered a pending case against Chief Justice nominees.

Nonetheless, the House will hear the impeachment case — and Baguilat said he remains hopeful regarding the process, despite the fact that the opposition is a minority in Congress.

"Admittedly, it's going to be very challenging, very difficult," said Baguilat. "But as I was saying earlier, many of our colleagues whispered that they didn't like the quo warranto... I always believe we have a fighting chance."