On this, I will agree with the lawyers of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno: The House of Representatives committee on justice’s hearings on the impeachment case filed against the country’s top magistrate are starting to look like a totally unnecessary dog-and pony-show.
My online dictionary defines “dog and pony show” as “a highly promoted, often over-staged performance, presentation or event designed to sway or convince opinion for political or… commercial ends.” And I really wonder why the House committee just doesn’t decide either way on the matter of removing Sereno—or allow the other bodies that can make that decision to do so.
By definition, the committee of Rep. Reynaldo Umali has already done its job when it ruled on the sufficiency in form and in substance of the complaint against Sereno last September. By rights, the Umali committee must already have taken the matter of Sereno’s impeachment to the House plenary, which can decide to bring the case up to the Senate, assuming two-thirds of the entire lower chamber vote to impeach.
But instead of just ruling on the form and substance of the complaint filed by lawyer Larry Gadon, the complainant, the Umali panel took the unprecedented step of conducting a preliminary investigation. The committee held gratuitous public hearings that seem designed to a) allow individual members to grandstand; b) telegraph legal strategies and present evidence better evaluated at an actual trial; or c) both.
Understand that it is still the full House that will ultimately decide on whether or not to bring the Sereno case to trial in the Senate. Either that, or Sereno could follow the lead of former Commission on Elections Chairman Andres Bautista, who resigned after the plenary overruled the Umali committee’s findings by a two-thirds vote, after the House panel failed to find both the form and substance of the complaint against Bautista sufficient.
I gave Umali and his fellow committee members the benefit of the doubt when they said they wanted to carefully evaluate the evidence first before going for a plenary vote. But that preliminary evaluation, which doesn’t really have to be held in public, is already long done.
I don’t know if Umali still insists that he and his colleagues don’t want to be accused of railroading similar charges against both former President Joseph Estrada and the late Chief Justice Renato Corona. But I am convinced that they’ve already immunized themselves from those accusations by taking their sweet time to rule on sufficiency in form and substance in the subsequent complaints against Bautista and Sereno.
In the case of the current chief justice, they’ve really pushed the limits of the committee’s mandate. And people are starting to wonder why.
The Umali committee should let the House plenary vote on the Sereno case right now. Nobody needs this elaborate dog-and-pony show—not the people who want Sereno removed, not those who want her to stay and not everyone else in between, who only want to know why Umali and his committee are wasting so much time, effort and official resources on a case that is already beyond their control.
* * *
Commissioner Sheriff Abas’ appointment to the chairmanship of the Commission on Elections over the weekend raised some eyebrows—and some incipient legal objections. The main question being about whether or not Abas is fit to serve as chairman despite apparent constitutional problems and a 1990 Supreme Court ruling.
If Abas is to serve only the unexpired term of Bautista, then he will be Comelec chairman until 2022, when Bautista was scheduled to serve out his seven-year term. On the other hand, if Abas is only designated acting chairman, this would go directly against a ruling of the high court.
Abas, a relative of Moro Islamic Liberation Front chieftain Mohaqer Iqbal, was appointed to the commission in 2015 by then President Noynoy Aquino. Last week, President Rodrigo Duterte appointed him to replace Bautista as chairman of the commission.
But according to some lawyers I’ve talked to, the 1987 Constitution bars the reappointment of Comelec commissioners (Article X, Section 1, Paragraph 2). Furthermore, according to the same provision, any appointee to a vacancy in the commission can only serve the remainder of the term of the official replaced.
Then there’s the Supreme Court ruling (Brillantes versus Yorac, G.R. No. 93867, Dec. 18, 1990) which found the designation of Commissioner Haydee Yorac as acting Comelec chairman was null and unconstitutional. If Abas has been appointed by Duterte only as acting chairman, then this ruling—which voided the appointment of Yorac by then President Corazon Aquino as acting chairman to replace Hilario Davide —would apply.
Of course, the overriding concern about Abas’ appointment is still this: Will the Comelec hire its usual automation provider, Venezuela-based automation provider Smartmatic, to oversee future elections? I’m sure a lot of people would like to hear Abas speak out on all of these burning questions.