Philippine Congress body backs bid to impeach chief justice

Philippines Top Judge Vows Fight As President Rodrigo Duterte Allies Seek Ouster

The first female chief justice of Philippines Maria Lourdes Sereno allegedly has failed to pay taxes

Sparse applause was heard after De Castro's remarks as Sereno shook hands with other guests of honor, among them Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio and Batangas Rep. Vilma Santos. The House is dominated by allies of President Rodrigo Duterte, who has called for her removal.

Ramon Casiple, executive director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform, said the impeachment process might be moving at the House of Representatives, but the intention was not to bring the case to a Senate impeachment trial, but to force Sereno to resign.

House justice committee chair Reynaldo Umali tasked the vice chairpersons of the committee to draft a committee report and the articles of impeachment.

"I ask that we dispel all thoughts and impulses of malice and ill will for they serve no good goal and bring nothing but shame".

Meanwhile, the House is preparing for the impeachment trial in the Senate. If she is impeached, the Senate will form itself into an impeachment court. Six of Sereno's fellow justices testified against her in the hearings that started in September, exposing rifts in the high court.

"All kinds of lies, threats, harassment and bullying have been thrown my way but I will not yield", Sereno, the country's first female chief justice, said at an International Women's Day event in Manila.

"I think the large number (38-2) of votes (in the House justice committee) in favor of impeachment is an indication that in the plenary, it will get the same amount of support". One of the judges named on the list was later found out to have died before Duterte became president.

Worldwide rights groups and local critics have accused Duterte of drifting toward authoritarianism after declaring martial law in the south.

But since Congress is about to go on recess for the summer, Fariñas said the matter might be included in the calendar of business only when session resumes in May.

The justice panel voted on the existence of probable cause after five months of weekly hearings on the complaint filed by lawyer Lorenzo Gadon.

In his view, the fact that the House did not do this showed that Congress was buying time because it knew lawmakers knew they a weak case.

If congress decides to impeach an official, then the upper house, which now has 23 members, convenes for a trial.

Among the allegations hurled against the Chief Justice under her supposed culpable violation of the Constitution offense are her supposed issuances of orders without the approval of the en banc, her delayed action on the petitions for retirement benefits and her failure to file her Statement of Assets Liabilities and Networth to the Judicial and Bar Council when she applied for her position in 2012.

"It is also baseless because the submission of SALNs (statement of assets and liabilities and net worth) is not required by the constitution for appointment of Chief Justice", Lagman stressed.

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