EARLY IN MONDAY’S proceedings, House Justice Committee chair Rey Umali took umbrage at Joshua Santiago and Aldwin Salumbides, CJ Maria Lourdes Sereno’s counsel and spokespersons, who at a weekend forum branded the committee sessions a “dog and pony show.”
“If I may just enjoin the lawyers, please respect this impeachment committee lest we will be forced to again use the coercive powers of the court, of this impeachment committee, and/or other powers that are vested in the House of Representatives para lang maging maayos po ang ating proceeding…We are trying our darnest (sic) best to be fair,” Umali said.
The veiled threat was typical, but that Umali had the gall to claim fairness and expect respect after all his committee’s shenanigans is dumbfounding.
Let’s wade through the muck, shall we?
In October, the Justice Committee by a vote of 30-4 found Larry Gadon’s complaint sufficient in form and substance though it refused to read each charge individually, as provided by its own rules. The reading of the charges would’ve allowed Sereno’s formal replies to be heard and discussed, and would have made the vacuity of Gadon’s case visible to all. This, of course, is precisely why the committee disdained the rules. But by doing so, it made its bias visible to all.
The committee further exposed itself last week when it again voted 30-4 to bar her lawyers from participating in the sessions. It not only brazenly denied Sereno’s constitutional right to counsel, Umali also seems bent on humiliating the Chief Justice by forcing her appearance on pain of arrest. Reacting to her refusal to attend the deliberations, Umali flaunted the committee’s power to subpoena, reminding everyone that resistance would have its consequences.
We must be clear. The Justice Committee is not yet prosecuting Sereno; it is now engaged only in discovering probable cause for Gadon’s complaint. If such is found, the House will impeach Sereno and forward the matter to the Senate, where a team of congressmen will then prosecute the case.
The burden of proof is on complainant Gadon. The Committee must be an objective assessor. If the proof presented is wanting, the Committee should throw it out. It is under no compulsion to help the complainant build his case. The Committee must respect the rights of the accused and observe the constitutional presumption of innocence at all times. That’s the idea, at least.
The reality is far different.
At the first session, Gadon admitted that he had no direct knowledge of the facts of one of his charges. He had claimed in his complaint that Sereno allegedly falsified a TRO originally drafted by Associate Justice Teresita de Castro; his basis was an article written by Manila Times reporter Jomar Canlas who supposedly got his information from de Castro. However, moments after Gadon cited this, de Castro denied leaking anything to Canlas. On Monday, Canlas affirmed her denial. In short, Gadon acted on hearsay. A miffed Umali was compelled to drop the P word (for “perjury”) after Gadon’s pathetic performance. In my view he should’ve called a halt then and there, but he did not.
In Monday’s session, Gadon again admitted to hearsay and failed to support his allegations with affidavits, triggering a minor explosion from a now mortified Umali:
“In the last hearing sabi ko please do your homework… Ikaw kasi nag-aakusa kung kaya’t hinihingi yung pagkakataon na gawin mo naman yung trabaho mo. ‘Yun yung inaangal ng kasamahan namin dito na ginagawa mo kaming imbestigador mo eh. Hindi kami ‘yon. If you will recall in PIs, sa preliminary investigation when you’re a practitioner, pag nagfile ka ng complaint, nakaakibat doon yung mga affidavits ng iyong mga witnesses na susumpa sa piskal. Por dios por santo, eh gawin mo rin yung trabaho mo.”
Note how frustrated Umali is that Gadon failed to “do his homework.” Is he upset because Gadon is wasting official time and money, or is he mad because Gadon is bungling his job? Umali should’ve dismissed the complaint immediately after this instead of telling Gadon, in effect, “to get it right next time.”
Gadon’s complaint also alleged “favoritism” when Sereno objected to Francis Jardeleza’s appointment to the Supreme Court. He supported this with a statement made by Judicial and Bar Council regular member Jose Mejia, which he quoted in his complaint. Grilled on this, Gadon confirmed on Monday that he did not personally know if Mejia’s statement would indeed show that Sereno had “practiced or decided because of favoritism.” Again, Gadon relied on on hearsay.
With the gaping holes in Gadon’s complaint, it resembles more a sieve than anything that holds water. The Justice Committee should not have found it “sufficient in form and substance” to begin with. Had it obeyed its own rules and read the charges individually, this would have been evident, and the only recourse would’ve been dismissal. Constitutionalist Tony La Viña pointed this out, saying that “personal knowledge is an absolute requirement” and that the committee should have axed the complaint directly.
Each day reveals the weakness of Gadon’s case. Umali should really be making his mind up to throw it out. Is he? Well, he gave this interview on CNN last week:
What a bummer, right? The Justice Committee chair completely misunderstands its role. He thinks they are prosecutors building a case and not lawmakers protecting the rights of the accused and the people’s welfare. What a monstrous malady.
Umali wants respect but he and his committee have flouted the rules, Sereno’s rights, the gravitas of the impeachment process, and the people’s yearning for stability. Moreover, he has offended a co-equal branch of government with threats of arresting its Chief. Above all, his committee has sullied justice.
Because of this, they have been dubbed the Committee on Injustice – a moniker they probably detest but deserve. This reversal is normal in a regime where good is evil and evil, good; where laws are bent to “neutralize” the innocent, elevate the guilty, and enthrone villains. The people’s urgent task, and one we cannot shirk, is to hold them all accountable. Let’s begin by junking the junk. Let’s not stop till the trash is gone.
There are six things the Lord hates,
seven that are detestable to him:
a lying tongue,
hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked schemes,
feet that are quick to rush into evil,
a false witness who pours out lies
and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.
– Proverbs 6:16-19