The House Justice Committee ruled that the impeachment complaint filed by lawyer Lorenzo Gadon against Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno is sufficient in form and substance, asking the chief justice to file her response.

In the same hearing Wednesday, the same panel dismissed the complaint filed by Dante Jimenez and eligio Mallari for not being sufficient in form because it was not properly verified.

Gadon’s complaint, the 2nd to be filed but the first to be endorsed by 25 congressmen, was subjected to havy scrutiny by congressmen associated with the past administration, which appointed Sereno Chief Justice.

Liberal Party lawmakers Edcel Lagman, Arlene Bag-ao, Kit Belmonte, their party list ally Akbayan rep. Tom Villarin, were joined by Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos zarate  and Siquijor Rep Rav Rocamora in opposing the impeachment complaints against Sereno.

COOP NATCO rep. Anthony Bravo, an endorser of the Gadon complaint moved to find the complaint sufficient in form, facilitating discusssions on the matter. Bravo stressed Sereno failed to meet the standards the Supreme court established for judges. ““I believe it is only just and right that we provide an opportunity for allegations against the Chief Justice to be heard so that we can ascertain if there are bases to remove her from public office,”

Zarate objected and said that the complaint was based on hearsay and newspaper clippings.

Chairman rey Umali answered that 30 allegations against gadon are backed up by authentic documents secured from the supreme court. Umali added he has has copies of originals of documents and or notice from supreme court en banc. Umali stressed he believes these are authentic documents. Umali explained  one of the requirements for verification is information or allegation must be culled from authentic documents. Umali added if the complaint is tested for probable cause, justices of the court may testify.

Majority Leader Rodolfo Farinas produced a Supreme Court en banc order granting the release of the documents requested by Gadon, all authentic. farinas told an ambush interview “pero based  on authentic records di naman and eh you dont have to have personal knowledge and based on authentic records or nga eh kung wala ka namang personal knowledge pwede naman kung based on authentic records. personal knowledge or culled from personal knowledge….yung kay alejano case eh daming pinatay and everything  wala ka naman official documents and puro newspaper si gadon while he may not have personal knowledge he was able to get from the supreme court orders or acts of the chief justice na kunwestyon niya…based on the records merong paninindigan complaint”

Bag-ao pointed out that gadon’s complaint was filed  august 1 before the documents ere released august 15.

Umali stressed that whats important is Gadon has authentic documents.

Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman said the same rules that were applied in the complaint against President Duterte should be applied in the Sereno case. likewise he insisted that the complaint was based on hearsay and lacked personal knowledge.

Villarin echoed the same arguments.

The committed voted 30-4 to find Gadon’s complaint sufficient in form.

The committee then tested it for sufficiency of substance at the motion of Kabayan rep. Harry Roque.

Villarin argued that the purchase of the land cruser of sereno was approved by the court en banc, that  failure to declare her earnings before joining the court were not impeachable.  villarin also pointed out that some of the complaints raised by gadon are still pending before the supreme court.

Umali explained that the task of the committee in the process of impeachment is to determine the fitness of a public official and that is not something timebound.

Lagman reiterated the same arguments and added some complaints involve minor differences of opinion within the court that do not qualify as impeachable offenses.

Bag-ao said gadon filed to point out which cosntitutional rovisions Sereno violated.

Zarate echoed this and said that grounds for imeachment have been overstretched. Zarate told an ambush interview, “this is being stretched too much kung babasahin ang complaint there are probably administrative lapses ang chief justices but this can be addressed ng Sc en banc napakahirap nito pag ating talagang nastretch anob a culpable violation of constitution lahat na lang pwede maimpeach dahil nagkaroon sila ng lapses while they are in office. there is a higher standard na dapat sundin natin. sa ibang allegations i think kung merong lapses na nagawa ang chief justice malinaw na overturn ito ng SC en banc mey mga mechnaism toc orrect all these lapses.di ko sinabing walang nagawang kahinaan i dont think this rises to the level of the grounds stated in the constitution.”

Still The committee still found the complaint sufficient in substance, 30-4.

Next came the complaint filed by Dante Jimenez and Eligio Mallari, which was filed first but endorsed 2nd. Iloilo rep. art defensor moved to declare it suffieinct in form.

However things toon an unexpected turn when majority leader Rodolfo Farinas pointed out that the Jimenez-Mallari Complaint lacked proper verification as it used the verification form for complaints that alreday have the support of 1/3 of congressmen upon filing, and not the prescribed form for private complainants. Farinas said in an ambush interview. “di naman yun ang nilagay nila sa verification nila eh ang kinopya nila  is pamverification by 1/3 of all the members of the House nakalagay doon i have casued that this complaint be prepared that i have read the allegations contained therein and the allegations are of my personal knowledge or culled from authentic records.”

Zarate challenged his peers to be strict in applying the rules, reiterating that the Jimenez-Mallari complaint also failed the test of personal knowledge.

Bag-ao reiterated Farinas’ point.

Farinas himself joined the oppositors and said that under the rules of court this should be treated as an unsigned pleading.

Leyte Rep Vicente Veloso tried to save the Jimenez-Mallari complaint by insisting that the complaint only needed to be endorsed.

Farinas pointed out that in dismissing the impeachment complaint against President Duterte, the plenary adopted the committee report that recommended that the Alejano complaint against Duterte be the last time that the panel will not be strict in applying the rules. Farinas added the adoption of that committee report already served notice to everyone.

Kabayan rep. Ron salo echoed Farinas.

Roque objected to the  opinion of Farinas, forcing Farinas to explain that Roque is objecting because the same verification of the Jimenez-Mallari complaint was used by Roque in the complaint against Chairman Andres Bautista.

asked if the Bautista complaint’s defect can be fixed, Farinas said, “bahala na committee last tiem we said hence forth we will cosnider it dismissal on the merits anoba naman VACC pareho sa Gadon kesa naman 2 pa para namanw e annoucned last time hencefort pag may pupunta required sa constitution when you file a complaint…it must be verified. there is a form alreday accepted in the rules of court dama ilagay mo na personal knowledge nirefer na sa committee ewan ko bahala na committe. everything depends on the appreciation of the individual members.”

Umali pointed out that Lagman appears tobe happy because the majority started to wrangle amongst themselves.

In the end, the committee declared the complaint insufficient in form and dismissed it, 28-5.

Umali in his opening remarks said, “Having complied with the twin requirements of filing and referral, the impeachment proceedings against Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno is hereby declared as INITIATED on September 7, 2017, and that under paragraph 5, Section 3 of Article XI of the Constitution which states that “no impeachment proceedings shall be initiated against the same official more than once within a period of one year”, the “One-Year Bar” rule or impeachment proceedings against Chief Justice Sereno takes effect starting September 7, 2017. “

Umali said the committee has 6 months to deliberate on the impeachmen complaints. “Pursuant to Section 3(2), Article XI of the 1987  Constitution, and Section 8 of the Rules of Procedure in Impeachment Proceedings, the Committee on Justice has sixty (60) session days from the referral of the verified complaint to submit its report to the House. Counting from September 7, the date of referral of the impeachment complaints under consideration today, and assuming that the House will conduct session on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, with no declared emergency holidays, the 60th day shall fall on March 20, 2018. Thus, we have an estimated 6 months to deliberate

Umali also strssed that this is not the first time 2 impeachment complaints against the same official had been referred to the committee at the same time. he cites the cases of the 2 complaints against then Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez and the 3 complaints against then President Aquino. “Let me state that this is not the first time that more than one (1) impeachment complaints have been filed and referred to the Committee on Justice against the same impeachable officer. In 2010, two impeachment complaints against Former Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez were filed on different dates, but both complaints were simultaneously referred to the Committee. Ruling on the propriety of such referral, the Committee on Justice ruled that although there were two different complaints filed, there was only one (1)impeachment proceeding initiated when both complaints were simultaneously referred to the Committee on Justice. This ruling was upheld by the Supreme Court in the case of Merceditas Gutierrez vs. House of Representatives1 where the Court stated:  “The filing of an impeachment complaint is like the lighting of a matchstick. Lighting the matchstick alone, however, cannot light up the candle, unless the lighted matchstick reaches or torches the candle  wick. Referring the complaint to the proper committee  ignites the impeachment proceeding. With asimultaneousreferral of multiple complaints filed, more than one lighted matchsticks light the candle at the same time. What is important is that there should only be ONE CANDLE that is kindled in a year, such that once the candle starts burning, subsequent matchsticks can no longer rekindle the candle.”  Similarly, in 2014, three (3) impeachment complaints  against former President Benigno Aquino III were simultaneously referred to the Committee. The Committee then took cognizance of the said complaints, and a single impeachment proceeding was deemed initiated upon the simultaneous referral of the complaints. Notably, another impeachment complaint was filed against former President Aquino on the day the three (3) complaints were referred to the Committee. This fourth complaint was no longer entertained for being violative of the One-Year Bar Rule. “

Umali in his opening remarks refreshed the minds of his colleagues on the rules of impeachment but stressed that congressmen are left to decide based on their individual appreciation. Umali also stressed that impeachment has a political nature. “The question of whether or not there is a need to subject the respondent to further steps in the impeachment process is subject to the individual appreciation of each and every Member of the Committee on the sufficiency in substance of the verified complaint.”

After the voting Umali said that Sereno will now be served notice and a copy of the resolution and verified complaint, giving her ten calendar days upon receipt to file her answer along with a copy of the complaint. Umali told an ambush interview, “i think so under the rules we are required to send notice to the respondent CJ sereno to answer so gaya nito multiple complaints ito pag intay pa natin maghehearing na naman sa sufficiecny in form bago pa natin di wpede sagutin ni CJ yung isa lang otehrwise this will be messy so i declared that the 2nd complaint that of dante jimenez already dismissed. whats next i have already ordered the comsec to send notice to the CJ to answer. next hearing pertaining to the cj impeachment she will hve to file ehr answer we will have to schedule hearing for purpsoe of determining probable cause on tuesday we will hve our hearing on the bautista impeachment complaint”

No motion to dismiss shall be entertained. Umali said, “Once the Committee determines the verified complaint  sufficient both in form and in substance, the next step is the determination of the sufficiency of the grounds alleged in the complaint. This would require, under Sections 6 and 7 of the Rules on Impeachment, the submission by the Respondent of an answer, under oath, affidavits and counter affidavits, evidence and other memoranda before the Committee. Should the Committee find sufficient grounds for impeachment, the Committee shall thereafter determine whether probable cause exists on the basis of the evidence submitted to the Committee. Similar to the finding of sufficiency in substance, the determination of sufficiency of the grounds and the existence of probable cause for impeachment is left to the individual discretion of the members, owing to the inherent political nature of impeachment, as explained earlier.  Once Sereno has answered, the complainant will be given time to file his comments and then the committee will proceed with determination of probable cause at a hearing to be scheduled at a later date.”

Gadon had called for Sereno’s impeachment for misdeclaration of SALN, corruption, misuse of funds and power  and failure to act with the consent of the Court.”

Jimenez has accepted their fate. “unang una ang naintindihan ko dito mali yung sa verification so ang gusto namin maclarify kasi sa form pa lang pinaguusapan if we can still rectify this form amiinin natin 1st time kami magfile ng complaint against a chief justice we will coordinate with the committee on justice..may tsansa pa ba? at least yung kay atty gadon ok naman. doon tayo sa substantial portion we will still have the opprotunity to recitfy this. im not disgusted im not sad. that is how democracy must work. kung dismissed na wala na tayo magagawa. pwede pa ba magrectify in the area of form?”

Gadon however is preparing for the next step, “im very happy that my complaint passed the scrutiny. i thank the members of the justice committee on approving my complaint. i believe in demoracy. just last monday the Sc en banc provided me 384 pages of certified true copies of documents.  how can they say there is hearsay probably the other members of the committee did not read the complaint. lately i received from a very reliable eprson na nagsabi meron pang 3 justices na willing magtetsify voluntarily even if they are not invited 6 na sa ngayon. sa hearing na lang mga incumbent yan. they want to save the coirt and the judiciary.”

Lagman issued this statement afterwards, “ The supermajority in the House of Representatives played the dual roles of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” in sustaining insufficiency in form and substance of the Gadon impeachment complaint and rejecting the sufficiency in form of Jimenez/Mallari complaint. This split personality charade tried to minimize the clear agenda of the supermajority of pursuing the impeachment of Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno. The strict standard used in finding the Jimenez/Mallari complaint insufficient in form should have also been the inflexible standard employed in the Gadon complaint where the complainant has also no personal knowledge of the allegations in his complaint, even as the attachments were mostly newspaper accounts which are considered hearsay, and the proffered “authentic documents” in fact belied sufficiency in substance of the grounds for impeachment in the complaint. “

Alejano for his part cried double standards. “The hearing today showed the glaring double standards on how the impeachment case against Chief Justice Sereno and the impeachment case against President Duterte were treated. Let me clearly point out these instances.”

Alejano makes the following arguments:

(1)  An endorser was allowed to make a lengthy opening statement. In my case, I was not only prevented to deliver an opening statement. I was prevented to even speak during the proceedings.

 (2)  Atty. Gadon was only asked to swear on the truthfulness of the verification. In my case, I was probed and bombarded questions without even being given the chance to explain.

 (3)  Atty. Gadon has cited newspaper clippings as basis of the complaint meaning he has no personal knowledge. The members of the committee justified this. In my case, the citation of newspaper clippings was simply dismissed as hearsays arguing that I have no personal knowledge.

 Further, the Justice Committee Chair Umali and Majority Leader Farinas argued that even if he has no personal knowledge, his complaint was based from authenticated documents. However, the authenticated documents were dated August 15, 2017, way beyond the August 2, 2017 filing of Atty. Gadon’s impeachment complaint. Clearly he has neither personal knowledge nor authenticated documents to base his impeachment complaint on.

 (4)  It was repeatedly raised that the contents of the complaint be tackled during the hearing proper since the first stages only require the determination of sufficiency in form and substance. Anyway, the committee has subpoena powers to further strengthen the allegations later during the determination of probable cause, as the committee members have argued. In my case, the contents of the complaint were immediately questioned at the first stage.

 (5)  The determination of sufficiency in substance of Atty. Gadon’s impeachment complaint was limited on recital of facts, as stated in the rules. In my case, the committee went beyond recital of facts as basis for determining if the impeachment complaint is sufficient in substance.