By Daniel Llanto | FilAm Star Correspondent
As the House of Representatives voted 38-2 to set the stage for the Senate impeachment trial of on-leave Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, former Senate president Juan Ponce Enrile agreed to come out of apparent retirement to be the top gun in the panel that will serve as prosecutors in the Senate trial.
Now 94, Enrile has been mostly withdrawn after he was freed by the Supreme Court in 2015 from a PHP 172-million plunder charge, the largest of the so-called “mother of all scam” cases, precisely because of his advanced age. The Supreme Court tha tordered him released on humanitarian grounds was headed by Sereno who assumed the post in 2012.
But the House impeachment team believes Enrile still has what it takes. “Alam n’yo naman, Enrile being the first and presiding judge before at the Senate impeachment court (in 2012) ay lalo’t higit sa issue ng SALN na ito, sila ang nagdesisyon ay malaking kalinawan at malaking tulong ang maibibigay niya,” said Oriental Mindoro Rep. Renaldo Umali, chairman of the House Committee on Justice.
Umali, who is expected to helm the 11-man House prosecution team, also revealed that the legal team of the late Serafin Cuevas in the defense panel of the late chief justice Renato Corona has likewise joined their team. The lawyers in that team included Tranquil Salvador and Noel Malaya.
House Deputy Speaker Raneo Abu lauded Enrile’s inclusion in the House prosecution team. “As the House is building an airtight impeachment case, Enrile’s vast experience, expertise and familiarity of the Constitution will help boost the prosecution’s mission to convict the Chief Justice,” he said, describing Enrile as “one of the country’s best legal giants.”
The congressman from Batangas said Enrile would boost their chances of having to ensure the conviction of Sereno by the Senate impeachment court, where he can help formulate legal strategy and provide high quality professional and legal services.
The House committee on justice voted 38-2 week to pave the way for the imminent impeachment of Sereno, who will now stand trial before the Senate functioning as an impeachment court.
The two committee members who voted against the determination of probable cause were Dinagat Islands Rep. Kaka Bag-ao and Quezon City Rep. Jose Christopher Belmonte, both from the Liberal Party of former president Benigno Aquino III who appointed Sereno as chief magistrate in 2012.
House Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas instructed the vice-chairmen of the committee – Reps. Vicente Veloso, Doy Leachon, Henry Oaminal, Arnulfo Fuentebella and Strike Revilla – to form a “small body” that will write the committee report to the plenary.
The pro-administration lawmakers will also be preparing the draft Articles of Impeachment, which will be the basis if and when the plenary or 292-member chamber approves the committee report for purposes of impeaching Sereno by sending it to the Senate for trial.
The Umali committee likewise approved the motion of Deputy Majority Leader Juan Pablo Bondoc to “declassify” the four-hour deliberations they had in executive session where they discussed the results of Sereno’s psychiatric tests where she reportedly flunked.
The Umali committee utilized clinical psychiatrist Geraldine Tria as “expert witness” who affirmed that Sereno was not fit to be a chief justice nominee and recommended that she be excluded by the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC).
Tria told the lawmakers that she would “not recommend” Sereno to be appointed as head of the entire judiciary, or the third branch of government, especially because the chief jurist exhibited five of the nine symptoms of “mental disturbance.”
While Enrile served as presiding officer at the Corona impeachment, Salvador served as spokesman of the late Renato Corona, the first chief justice to be impeached and convicted by the Senate impeachment court, with Enrile as presiding officer.
As Salvador defended Corona, Enrile voted for the conviction of the then chief justice for betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the Constitution, saying that Corona deliberately excluded substantial assets from his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth, which amounted to hundreds of millions of pesos.