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President irked, now wants Congress to fasttrack impeachment process

By ALFRED GABOT | Editor in Chief


Photo: Rappler


DAVAO CITY/BAGUIO CITY – Angered by Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno’s challenge to him to explain to the people his role in the bid to remove her in the Supreme Court,  President Rodrigo Duterte, who had earlier declared he had not meddled in the case, now declared her an "enemy" and wants her out in the high court, adding she does not deserve to be there.


Following his speech, the High Tribunal held its session in Baguio City and held the oral arguments on the quo warranto petition filed against Sereno. Before proceeding with the arguments, the tribunal rebuffed Sereno when her petition to inhibit five Associate Justices in the case was thrown out by the court, giving way to the arguments attended by Sereno and her lawyers.


Specifically, Sereno, in a speech on April 9 during a Day of Valor (Araw ng Kagitingan) event, dared Mr. Duterte to explain why the government's lawyer, Solicitor General Jose Calida, was seeking the invalidation of her appointment through a quo warranto petition filed before the Supreme Court.

Sereno said: “Mr. President, if you have no hand in this, why did Solicitor General Jose Calida, who reports to you, file the quo warranto?”


“Surely, you must explain this unconstitutional act,” Sereno told a gathering in Quezon City organized by the Movement Against Tyranny.


Sereno hinted that there was an “unseen hand” pushing for her impeachment.


“Hindi po maitatangging may kamay na gumagalaw dito. (It cannot be denied that there is a hand moving behind the scenes),” she said.


The chief justice also branded Calida’s efforts to support the impeachment case against her as “the height of its absurdity” as the solicitor general was trying to gather 30-year-old records.


She quipped that the solicitor general should also look for her high school records.


Sereno, insisting that she could be removed only through an impeachment proceeding and not through the quo warranto case, stood firm she would not resign and that she was ready for the Senate impeachment trial.


At a press conference after making his departure speech for the Boao Forum in Hainan, China, Duterte also instructed the House of Representatives, where he holds a supermajority of allies, to "fast track" Sereno's impeachment even as the Supreme Court was yet to decide on the quo warranto seeking her ouster.


"Ikaw Sereno, sinabi ko na sa 'yo, hindi ako nakialam. If you are insisting, count me in. Count me in and I will egg Calida to do his best. Ako na mismo maglakad, magkalaban sa ’yo. Sinabi ko na sa'yong hindi ako nakikialam," the angry Duterte said.


"Sige ka diyan, daldal nang daldal, sige, upakan kita. I will help any investigator, talagang upakan kita. I am putting you on notice na. I am now your enemy and you have to be out of the Supreme Court. I will see to it then after that I will request the Congress, go into the impeachment right away," he said.


Duterte said the Supreme Court can hear the quo warranto petition "simultaneously" with Congress' hearing on the impeachment.


"I’d like to ask Speaker [Pantaleon] Alvarez now, kindly fast track the impeachment of Sereno. She is bad for the Philippines," he said.


"I am asking Congress, what is taking you so long? Do not create any crisis in this country. I will not hesitate to do what is to the best interest of my country. If it calls for your forced removal, I will do it," he said.


Duterte said a simple public school teacher could get fired if she does not file her SALN, yet Sereno, who earned attorney's fees for working as government counsel, did not submit hers.


"What is this special treatment? I’ll go to jail with her; diyan ako sa gitna ng selda ko—dito si De Lima at doon siya," he said, referring to Senator Leila De Lima, who has been detained on drug charges for more than a year.


Sereno in a speech earlier on Monday, April 9, said the President should explain why SolGene Calida filed a "quo warranto" petition before the Supreme Court to invalidate her appointment.


Sereno was appointed chief justice by Duterte’s predecessor, Benigno Aquino 3rd, in 2012 after the impeachment trial that unseated the late Chief Justice Renato Corona.


Sereno, the youngest to be appointed chief justice, was forced by her colleagues to go on indefinite leave in March amid her impeachment woes.


In his petition, Calida asked Sereno's colleagues to invalidate her appointment, citing her supposed failure to submit her statements of assets, liabilities, and net worth to the Judicial and Bar Council when they were screening applicants for the Chief Justice post in 2012.


Calida explained before the High Court that he acted on his own in filing the petition and never got any instruction from Mr. Duterte or any other high ranking official.


Calida also insisted that Sereno can be removed through the quo warranto proceedings, independent of the impeachment complaint filed against the Chief Justice.


Following Duterte’s instruction, Rep. Reynaldo Umali, chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Justice which acted on the impeachment complaint filed by lawyer Lorenzo Gadon, said that the House will act on the case when it resumes its session in May.


Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, at the same time, assured its approval and sending its complaint the Senate, acting as Impeachment Tribunal.


The impeachment complaint accuses Sereno of 11 acts of culpable violation of the Constitution, nine acts of betrayal of public trust, four acts of other high crimes and three acts of corruption.


Sereno is said to have failed to submit a complete set of statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) as required by the Judicial and Bar Council, which screens judiciary appointees.


She is also accused of manipulating the screening process for court appointees, including undermining the appointment of Associate Justice Francis Jardeleza.


The House justice panel is drafting the articles of impeachment against the chief justice, which will be submitted to the plenary for approval.


After several hours of oral arguments, Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio directed Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno and Solicitor General Jose Calida to submit their respective memorandum on the petition that seeks the top magistrate's ouster.


Carpio also ordered both parties to turn in their memorandum and all the documents requested from them on or before April 20 without extension.


After this, the case will be deemed submitted for the resolution, said Carpio, before ending more than five hours of oral arguments that were marked with heated exchanges, mostly between Sereno and Associate Justice Teresita de Castro.


A memorandum contains a summary of arguments, which may include additional claims that will bolster the parties' positions.


The Supreme Court en banc earlier denied Sereno’s motion for inhibition against her five colleagues in connection with the quo warranto petition filed by the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), seeking to nullify her appointment.


Sereno accused Associate Justices Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Francis Jardeleza, Noel Tijam and Teresita Leonardo-De Castro of showing "actual bias" and "animosity".


Before the start of the oral arguments, Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio announced that the five justices, whom Sereno accused of being biased against her, had denied her motion seeking their inhibition from the case.


Sereno moved for the inhibition of the five associate justices who have testified against her in the impeachment hearings in the House of Representatives.


Carpio said the justices would explain their reasons for denying Sereno’s motion for inhibition together with the resolution of the quo warranto petition.


Sereno’s counsel, lawyer Alex Poblador, reiterated that their participation in the proceedings should not be considered as waiver of their position that the five justices should inhibit from the case.


During the oral argument, Calida told the 15-man High Tribunal that it may assume jurisdiction over the quo warranto petition despite Sereno’s claim that she can only be removed through impeachment.


Calida cited the case of Estrada vs. Macapagal-Arroyo where the Court exercised its jurisdiction over the quo warranto petition filed by former President Joseph Estrada against his successor.


“The ruling made a full determination of the issue of whether it can oust the President who is an impeachable official, or find that she was unlawfully holding office…,” Calida said.


Calida said Sereno is not fit to hold the top judicial post for her failure to comply with the requirements as provided under the law.


He said the offenses that may warrant the filing of a quo warranto petition are different from the offenses that would warrant the filing of an impeachment complaint.


“A quo warranto ousts a public officer on the ground of ineligibility or failing to meet the qualifications for such public office, at the time of his appointment, while impeachment removes a validly appointed or elected impeachable officer upon conviction of any of the impeachable offenses committed while in office,” Calida said.


Poblador, on the other hand, said the granting of the quo warranto petition would set “a very dangerous precedent, erode the independence of the judiciary and the principle of separation of powers.”


He maintained that Section 2, Article XI of the Constitution provides that “impeachable officials may be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, culpable violation of the Constitution, treason, bribery, graft and corruption, other high crimes, or betrayal of public trust."


“It is not difficult to see that allowing the Solicitor General to remove a sitting justice by quo warranto will set a dangerous precedent that will destroy this public policy,” Poblador said while urging the SC justices during the oral arguments to dismiss Calida’s petition.


“If allowed to do so, what will stop the Solicitor General from filing similar petitions against any sitting Justice, based on any offense, whether impeachable or not, on the theory that such offense can somehow reflect on his integrity and probity?” he said.


Poblador also reiterated that the Chief Justice was continuously looking for her other Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALNs), which she intends to submit to the proper court—the Senate impeachment tribunal.


“The Chief Justice will do so, not because she has something to hide but simply because, firstly, this Honorable Court is not a trier of facts, let alone a trial court that can try and decide a complaint that she has violated the SALN laws,” Poblador said.


The impeachment proceedings, he argued, have commenced and once the Articles of Impeachment are filed with the Senate, it is the Senate that has the exclusive power to try and decide those issues.


Sereno, who is on indefinite leave, earlier said she is ready to face the impeachment proceedings in the Senate.

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Marcos cries foul over wet ballots, missing audit logs; Robredo firm in win

By ALFRED GABOT | Editor in Chief


Photo: ABS-CBN News


MANILA – Finally, after several months of waiting, the Supreme Court (SC), acting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET), started on Monday, April 3, the manual recount of thousands of votes in connection with the election protest filed by former senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. against sitting Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo.


The recount will determine the number of votes received by Robredo, wife of the late Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo and a former congresswoman of Naga City and Camarines Sur, and Marcos, son of the late President Ferdinand E. Marcos Sr. and former First Lady now Ilocos Norte congresswoman Imelda Romualdez Marcos, in the May 9, 2016 national elections through manual counting of the votes at the Supreme Court-Court of Appeals building in Padre Faura, Ermita, Manila.


Marcos had claimed he could have been cheated during the election prompting him to file an election protest but Robredo denied the allegations pointing out that she won that election fair and square.


Marcos filed the protest on June 29, 2016 in which he is contesting the results from 132,446 precincts in 39,221 clusters, covering 27 provinces and cities.


Robredo won the five-way vice presidential race in the May 2016 polls with 14,418,817 votes or 263,473 more than Marcos' 14,155,344 votes. Other candidates then were Sen. Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan, Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV and former senator, now Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano, the runningmate of President Rodrigo Duterte.


The first day of the long-delayed recount was marred by allegation by Marcos and his lawyers of many “wet ballots” from four precincts in Bato, Camarines Sur, bailiwick of Robredo, and missing early voting transmission logs which they said were indications of alleged cheating in the polls.


Meanwhile, four of 40 head revisors tasked to manually recount the votes have resigned for still unclear reasons which could delay the proceedings.


Marcos said he was "surprised and concerned" with the resignation of the four revisors allegedly "for no apparent reason." 


"I hope this will not result in another round of delays especially now that we have started to uncover clear signs of fraud," he said. "They are no ordinary revisors, having undergone rigid psychological test and meticulous screening by the PET. They must have a compelling reason for backing out and I am one with the Filipino people in asking why," he added.


Robredo, through her lawyer Beng Sardillo, also lamented the delay in the recount that the resignation has caused.


"It is unfortunate as this will once more cause delay in the proceedings," Sardillo said.


The vote recount will first cover the pilot areas of Marcos protest, namely, the provinces of Camarines Sur, Negros Oriental and Iloilo, all known bailiwicks of Robredo, covering a total of 5,418 clustered precincts.


It was gathered that the results of the revision of the pilot provinces will determine whether the Marcos protest will proceed with the remaining 31,047 protested clustered precincts, based on Rule 65 of the 2010 PET rules.


Records showed that this is the first time that PET is holding an actual recount of votes since the body was created by the 1987 Constitution to tackle electoral protests in the presidential and vice-presidential races.


The actual recount shall be conducted by revision committees, which are composed of three members each: one representative of the protestant, one representative of the protestee, and a head revisor, who shall represent the tribunal.


“As of today (Monday), the Tribunal has constituted 40 revision committees. The target is 50 revision committees and the Tribunal is still in the process of hiring and training applicants for the remaining 10 Head Revisor positions,” said Te told reporters in a press conference.


The recount will be conducted Monday to, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., with two 15-minute breaks and a one-hour lunch break.


Lawyer Jose Lemuel Arenas, a PET ad hoc committee member, said the revision is the process of verifying the ballots, to recount the votes of the parties, and to record the objections or claims of the parties.


He said there were 5,418 clustered precincts that cover the three pilot provinces of Camarines Sur, Iloilo and Negros Oriental, which were chosen by Marcos as the best provinces where he could prove the irregularities he cited in his poll protest.


Arenas said for each table, there will be three revisors – the head revisor (employee of PET), the protestant’s revisor and the protestee’s revisor.


The revisors will not be allowed to bring in their personal belongings, including their mobile phones, inside the venue. The PET has provided a locker for their belongings.


He noted that the time limit per ballot box with less than 300 votes will be 5.5 hours while for 300-700 votes will be 8.25 hours and for more than 700 votes will be 11 hours.


The tribunal is expecting some 213 personnel to come in per day during the recount. These include 60 employees of the tribunal, psychometricians, lawyers and representatives of both parties, and the revisors.


The revisors are part of the tribunal’s committee tasked to examine the contested ballots.


Arenas, said that the PET is currently housing some 1,400 ballot boxes from Camarines Sur.


Arenas said that other ballot boxes are currently with the Commission on Elections, due to storage issues.


Once the recount on the first 1,400 ballot boxes is done, the PET will receive the other ballot boxes from Camarines Sur, Iloilo and Negros Oriental.


Members of the Philippine National Police, the Philippine Coast Guard, the Police Security Protection Group and PET guards will secure the recount venue round-the-clock.


CCTVs were also installed on all four corners of the recount venue and the storage area. The proceedings are closed to media.


Marcos personally visited and observed at the recounting area during the first day of recount.


Marcos raised the issue that there were alleged wet ballots and "missing" clustered precinct audit logs in municipality of Bato in Camarines Sur.


He said that all ballots from four clustered precincts in the municipality of Bato in Camarines Sur have all been found wet, and their contents "illegible," and also alleged 39 out of four clustered precincts in the same town had no audit logs.


“Apat na presinto, sa bayan ng Bato, lahat ng balota, nung binuksan ‘yung balota, lahat ng balota, basa,” Marcos said.

“So, hindi magamit. Eh hindi namin maintindihan papaano. Hindi naman siguro, impossible naman siguro na dalawang taong basa ‘yan,” he added.

Furthermore, Marcos said that audit logs from 38 precincts out of 42 in Bato town were missing and remain unaccounted for.

“Out of 42 precincts, 38 precincts walang audit logs. Kinuha ‘yung audit logs. In other words, kinuha ‘yung ballot box, kinuha ‘yung ballot logs, at hindi namin makita,” he said.


Hindi namin maintindihan papaano, imposible naman siguro na dalawang taong basa 'yan. Palagay ko, kailangan talaga pag-aralan kung paano nangyari 'yan. Ibig sabihin kasi kung may nagbasa, may nagbukas nung ballot box (We cannot understand but I think’s it is impossible the ballots were wet for two years. I think we must know how did that happen. If these are wet, this means that somebody opened the ballot boxes)," Marcos said.


Marcos also said the audit logs contain the record of the times the precinct opened, closed and the time the votes were cast.


“We’re going to have to find a way to recover those audit logs somehow. Since we are using computer, maybe it’s possible that those audit logs are in the database,” the former senator said.


Marcos admitted that his camp is concerned about votes that came late on the evening of May 9, 2016 and early morning of May 10, 2016.


He said the Commission on Elections (Comelec) is to be blamed for the missing audit logs since they have in their possession the ballot boxes.


These concerns will be manifested in their objections, which will be recorded by the head revisors in each revision committee.


Marcos said he found the ballot boxes apparently unsecured prior to their Monday reopening -- while the containers were sealed, one box had a hole patched by masking tape, and a crack on its side.


He further observed rather slow proceedings on the first day of the recount but expects the process to speed up in the future.


 Robredo was represented by her lawyers on the first day of the recount.


Robredo’s legal counsel Romulo Macalintal dismissed Marcos’ insinuation that the wet ballots and missing audit logs indicate irregularities in the 2016 vice presidential race.


Hindi naman problema ‘yon eh. Talaga namang nangyayari ‘yon eh. Dahil sa ‘yang mga audit logs, pwede ka namang mag-request diyan sa mga ballot images. Puwedeng mag-request siya sa Supreme Court, sa Comelec. It’s not a problem. Kasi hindi naman pupuwedeng porket wala ang audit logs ay may anomaly (There is no problem with that. It really happens. You can just request for ballot images. It can be requested from the Supreme Court and Comelec. It doesn't necessarily mean that there is anomaly when there are no audit logs). The best evidence in the recount or revision are the ballots. And even the lawyer of Mr. Marcos said the best evidence are the ballots,” Macalintal told reporters in a hastily called press conference.


“The credibility of the ballots will remain. Kasi pag ang bilang ng (If the number of) ballots will tally with the bilang (number) ng election returns, walang problema (there is no problem). And in all election protests, from 2010 up to present automated elections, laging nagta-tally ang bilang ng recount doon sa (the recount tallies with the number of) election returns. And that’s the reason kung bakit wala pang nanalong (why there is no winning) election protest in 2010 to 2016 on the basis of ballot recount,” he added.


Macalintal said the ballots got wet during a typhoon sometime in December.


“I think Mr. Marcos should consult his representatives when the ballots were retrieved. Maybe he failed to read their report or they hid the truth from him about the condition of the ballots,” Macalintal said.


The wet ballots, according to Macalintal, are also immaterial considering that existence of ballot images.


“That is the beauty of an automated election. Because for every ballot cast, there is corresponding ballot image, corresponding picture of the ballot,” he pointed out.

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