REY UMALI wants us to believe that he has the goods. Comparing the Corona impeachment trial with his present case, he is “more than proud and confident” that he has “complete evidence” against CJ Meilou Sereno. He almost erupts with glee at it. How ungentlemanly.
Still, if the House Committee on Justice has all the evidence to impeach her, why did it miss its deadline for the articles of impeachment? They should’ve made short shrift of it instead of debating to an impasse. Umali’s evasive explanation went like this:
“Hindi namin natapos yung ano, articles of impeachment kasi hindi kami magkasundo kung ilan yung isasama and kung… Ang gusto ng iba comprehensive talaga to show that this is really a very strong case and I believe so too.”
He went on to say that the strongest allegations involved the supposed non-filing of her SALNs and the purchase of a luxury vehicle for her by the Supreme Court.
It’s amazing that Umali says these are the “strongest allegations,” because in his impeachment complaint Larry Gadon himself admitted that they were not impeachable offenses.
Umali and his crew keep harping on the SALN issue despite Sereno’s solid reply. She has explained time and again that she submitted all the SALNs she could locate. It is of course impossible to submit a SALN for years that she was on leave from government service, but Umali and Gadon seem to require this impossibility.
The SALNs she did submit were considered “substantial compliance” by the Judicial and Bar Council, according to JBC Executive Director Annaliza Ty-Capacite. JBC member Chiz Escudero further shed light on this decision:
“Kung naalala ko, narelax yung rules sa lahat ng aplikante nun, at pagkatapos nun hindi lamang kay Chief Justice Sereno. That was not even for the position of Chief Justice but ordinary Justice na inapply namin sa ibang applicants din for Justice at that time. Kung nabago ang rule, hindi ko alam. The minutes are there for everybody’s perusal.”
“Kasi may ilang mga aplikante nun na nagtatrabaho sa gobyerno 20 years ago, 15 years ago, tapos sporadic – patalon-talon iba’t ibang mga ahensiya na wala na silang record o hindi na nila makuha yung kopya ng kanilang SALN nung mga panahong yun. Yun ang naging basehan ng mahabang diskusyon kung pa’no nga lumabas yung substantial compliance…
But Justice Teresita de Castro does not accept that. She insists that Sereno’s “incomplete” submission was a “grave injustice” to the other applicants, herself included. With this protest, she opened the arena to arguments on the validity of Sereno’s appointment.
This was seconded, in a way, by Justice Diosdado Peralta, who was then head of the JBC. Peralta claims that he was not informed of the “deficiency,” and recriminates that he would have “objected to Sereno’s application” had he known of it.
My dad was a lawyer; in fact, he was a Justice of the Supreme Court. One of the first things he taught me when I was young was never to affix my signature to anything I had not studied. I knew that as an 8-year old; I never forgot it. I am surprised that Peralta, with all his magisterial experience, did not do better than me.
If what he says is true, then it was grossly neglectful of him to endorse that shortlist without performing due diligence. Truth be told, this puts Peralta in a worse light than Sereno. Peralta should be grateful that Gadon is on his side, otherwise Gadon or some other VACC zealot just might come at him one day with a quiverful of lawsuits.
As if the foregoing were not enough, Senator Rene Saguisag recently wrote,
I co-authored Republic Act No. 6713 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, and sponsored it on the floor, with its provisions on SALN. Thereunder, if one is convicted, he may be fined P5,000, max. Of course there is also the probationable penalty of five years in jail. I cannot imagine how we in the 1987-1992 Congress had meant that a violation of it would be an impeachable offense. I had meant it more to be administrative, not criminal.
All this demonstrates that the SALN and all the other charges in Gadon’s complaint are non-issues. This is really why Panty Alvarez and Rudy Fariñas are reluctant to discuss the impeachment in plenary. They would rather have Sereno removed by quo warranto petition, a bogus and illegal action which Solicitor General Jose Calida has obligingly initiated in the Supreme Court. (Note that this signals the entry into the fray of the Executive, despite all Rodrigo Duterte’s denials.)
The 1987 Constitution provides that the Chief Justice may be removed only by impeachment, but Calida posits otherwise. He speciously argues that Sereno’s appointment was invalid ab initio and that, being merely a de facto Chief, she is subject to removal by other means. Never mind that a quo warranto petition may only be filed within one year of the appointment. Calida has found a way to dodge that too.
Law professors nationwide have laughed at his reasoning. So have their students. It’s disturbing that the Supreme Court isn’t laughing with them. It’s appalling that it hasn’t dismissed his petition outright. If it chooses to take cognizance of the petition, the Justices who testified against Sereno in the House, and those who pressured her to resign in that fateful en banc session, will be called to sit in judgment over her fate. Impartial justice demands that they inhibit themselves. If they do not, they will have weakened the High Tribunal beyond resuscitation.
Umali is unsure which way the SC will go, and so he has Plan C in the wings. In case the quo warranto gambit does not fly, he is prepared to expose Sereno’s ineligibility by presenting her psychological record in evidence.
Again comparing this case to the Corona precedent, Umali says, “This is different. In fact… this is more on the fitness. This is more on the psychiatric and psychological and mental make-up of the chief justice in leading the Supreme Court.”
The Psychological Association of the Philippines has already stated that no one fails a psychological examination. It has also declared that conclusions based on hearsay are misleading and unethical. Yet Umali and his crew insist on exposing these records. They will attempt to shame Sereno, but they will succeed only in embarrassing themselves. This is because Larry Gadon in his impeachment complaint again admitted that her mental condition is not an impeachable issue. And if Umali insists on it, he is jeopardizing his boss Duterte, who may well be impeached on the same ground.
Sereno’s replies to the charges are reasonable; they will hold up in the impeachment court. This is why Umali is misdirecting. This is why he would have us debate her mental state and other peripherals instead of fixing on essentials. Let’s not play along. Instead, let’s ask: are these impeachable offenses or not? Let’s insist that Sereno have her day in the Senate. Let’s reject the quo warranto petition and loudly call on the SC to do the same. What we need to do is focus. When we look with clear eyes at this travesty, we will see how strong – or weak – our Supreme Court and Legislature really are. Those are the remaining markers of our democracy. As they fall or stand, we will know what to do.