No ‘express’ impeach route for Sereno: Alvarez

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SPEAKER Pantaleon Alvarez yesterday claimed that the impeachment complaint against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno has an overwhelming support from congressmen but he will not allow a direct transmittal to the Senate to ensure that prosecutors are prepared.

Alvarez said he can easily muster “200” signatories but the House will not take that route because he does not want his colleagues to come to the Senate unprepared and fish for evidence like what allies of President Benigno Aquino III did in 2011 and 2012 when they impeached then Chief Justice Renato Corona.

He said prosecution would be forced if he would allow a direct transmittal.

“I just don’t want us to look stupid before the impeachment court,” he told reporters. “That (automatic transmittal) would be risky like what happened to (then) Chief Justice (Renato) Corona – the complaint was directly brought to the (Senate sitting as an) Impeachment Court and they had to fish for evidence. That would be unfair. It won’t look good.”

Alvarez said he even had to stop colleagues from signing the complaint so it would go through the committee on justice for deliberations first and allow congressmen to prepare a case before going to trial.

“We can easily send it directly to the Impeachment Court, we could do that but I don’t want to. We should hear it here first to find out if there’s evidence and determine whether it can stand   in an Impeachment Court,” he said.

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Alvarez, however, believes there will be a solid case against Sereno not only because there are certified true copies in support of the allegations but because some SC associate justices may testify against the Chief Justice.

Two impeachment complaints were filed against Sereno last month – the one filed by private lawyer Lorenzo “Larry” Gadon, president of the PDU30 Constitutional Reform to Federalism which was endorsed by 25 congressmen, and the one filed by the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) and the Vanguard of the Philippine Constitution, which was endorsed by 16 lawmakers last Monday night.

Under the Constitution, the signatures of one-third or 98 lawmakers out of the 294 members of the House of Representatives are needed to immediately transmit the Articles of Impeachment to the Impeachment Court.

Alvarez has 10 session days from receipt of the complaint to refer it to the House committee on rules which has three session days to calendar it for plenary consideration.

Once referred, the justice committee has 10 session days to dispose of an impeachment complaint.

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The Speaker’s decision has put to rest the prospect of pursuing a “creeping impeachment” or the process of allowing lawmakers to sign the complaint to reach the required number of signatories even while the complaint is being heard.

The rules provide that complainants had to present the required number of signatories at the time of filing.

Rule IV, Section 13 of the current House rules provides that a verified complaint and resolution of impeachment filed by at least one-third of all the Members of the House “shall constitute the Articles of Impeachment, and in this case the verified complaint/resolution shall be endorsed to the Senate in the same manner as an approved bill of the House.”

“The complaint/resolution must, at the time of filing, be verified and sworn to before the Secretary General by each of the members,” it said.

Gadon’s complaint accuses Sereno of culpable violation of the Constitution for allegedly lying in her Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) – the same ground that allies of Aquino used when they impeached Corona in 2012.

The complaint alleged that Sereno did not declare in her SALN lawyer’s fees worth at least P16 million in the  Piatco arbitration case.

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It also accused the chief magistrate of purchasing a luxury car, a Toyota Land Cruiser, which is set to be turned into a bullet-resistant Sports Utility Vehicle. Sereno was also accused of not having paid taxes from earnings and having unauthorized travel expenses for her and her staff.

The VACC’s 16-page complaint for alleged betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the Constitution Sereno accused her of acting like a “dictator,” saying she violated the Constitution for issuing an administrative order creating the new Judiciary Decentralized Office (JDO) and re-opening the Regional Court Administration Office (RCAO) in Western Visayas without the approval of the SC en banc.

The complaint also said the Chief Justice has no right “to deprive the Court of its constitutional duty to exercise administrative supervision over all courts and their personnel and the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) of its statutory duty under Presidential Decree 828 to assist the Supreme Court in the exercise of said power of administrative supervision.”

Sereno was also accused of violating the Constitution “for granting to members of her staff travel allowances for foreign travel charged to the SC funds without court en banc approval.”

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