Duterte admin clamping down on Sereno, critics – solon

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(L-R) President Rodrigo Duterte, Magdalo party-list group Rep. Gary Alejano

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 14) — The impeachment case against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno is part of a concerted effort to clamp down on personalities and institutions critical of the administration, an opposition lawmaker said.

Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano on Thursday told CNN Philippines that aside from Sereno, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), the Office of the Ombudsman, and the Commission on Elections (Comelec) are "under attack."

"These constitutions are under attack because the executive department with the legislative department wanted all of these institutions to kowtow (to) their political agenda," Alejano said.

"Mawawala yung check and balance mo kapag itong mga ahensyang ito ay pinepressure mo," he added.

(Translation: "Checks and balances are gone when these agencies are pressured.")

The House Justice Committee on Wednesday found "sufficient in form and substance" the impeachment case filed against Sereno by lawyer Lorenzo Gadon.

Read more: One of two impeachment raps vs. Chief Justice Sereno hurdles House panel

Impeachment complaints have also been lodged against Vice President Leni Robredo, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, and Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista. Robredo is a chair of the opposition, the Liberal Party, while Bautista, Carpio-Morales, and Sereno were all appointed by former President Benigno Aquino III.

Related: Duterte lashes out at Aquino over drug war criticism

Malacañang has said it does not interfere with the filing and hearing of impeachment cases.

"The executive branch respects the separation of powers, and being their co-equal, we recognize the exclusive power of the House of Representatives to initiate all cases of impeachment," Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella said on August 31, after 25 lawmakers endorsed the case filed against Sereno.

Robredo, Carpio-Morales, and Sereno have voiced disagreements to some of President Rodrigo Duterte's policies and pronouncements, including his bloody war on drugs.

Related: Robredo to Duterte: Take back statement on defying SC, Congress

Related: Ombudsman denies Duterte's claims of 'selective justice'

The CHR, which has launched investigations into the drug killings, also took a hit. Alejano said the House of Representatives' decision to slash the 2018 CHR budget to ₱1,000 was meant to warn the commission "not to go against" the government.

Duterte on Wednesday said CHR Chairperson Chito Gascon "had it coming" for being "pro-yellow" or allied to the Liberal Party, and for "opening his mouth in a most inappropriate way."

Malacañang, meanwhile, said it does not expect officials of constitutional bodies to always agree with the President.

"They have their own opinions, this is a free country and so we respect the opinion of the different heads of agencies," Presidential Communications Office Assistant Secretary Kris Ablan said in a press briefing on Thursday.

Government officials' criticisms of the administration do not warrant their resignation, Ablan said. She was asked to comment on Senator Tito Sotto's remarks those who do not support the President must quit their posts.

Duterte hand in Sereno impeachment rap?

Alejano said the supermajority at the House of Representatives wants Sereno ousted in the soonest possible time.

"I think what they wanted is to maximize the opportunity to discuss the case at the House of Representatives in order to pressure, maybe, the chief justice, along the way to resign," Alejano told CNN Philippines' The Source.

When asked why his fellow solons want the chief justice out, Alejano said the supermajority was acting at the President's wish.

"Remember when Chief Justice Sereno advised the judges not to report to the police when their names were raised by President Duterte. And actually Chief Justice Sereno wrote to the President to remind him of the separation of powers and the independence of the Supreme Court. It did not sit well with the President," Alejano said.

"Do you think you will just sign the impeachment complaint without a blessing from upstairs?" he added.

Duterte first lashed out at Sereno in August last year, after the chief justice said those tagged by the President as drug personalities didn't have to turn themselves in unless there was a warrant for their arrest. Duterte warned Sereno of a possible clash between two equal branches of government that could lead to a constitutional crisis.

"Do not create a crisis because I will order everybody in the executive department not to honor you. Gusto mo ng prangkahan (If you want me to be frank)," Duterte said.

Alejano also said Duterte knew of the impeachment case against Sereno even before it was filed on August 30. He said on August 22, Duterte slammed a government official for staying in luxurious hotels. He is convinced the President was referring to Sereno, although both the chief justice and the President have denied this.

Related: Duterte won't meddle in impeachment proceedings vs. Chief Justice

"Ibig sabihin nagparinig na siya noon…alam na niya na may (He was already alluding to it, he already knew there's such) impeachment complaint, that someone is building up a case and he knows the details of that," he said.

Complainant Gadon was the lawyer of former President and now Pampanga 2nd District Representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, a known ally of Duterte.

Alejano himself filed an impeachment complaint against the President, which was dismissed in May.

Related: Duterte immune to impeachment for 1 year

Supermajority assures fair proceedings

In the impeachment complaint, Gadon accused Sereno of corruption, for "using public funds to finance her extravagant and lavish lifestyle." He said Sereno stayed in luxurious hotels and brought a "huge entourage of lawyers in her supposed official foreign trips."

Sereno is also accused of violating the Constitution, betrayal of public trust, and other high crimes - grounds for officials to be impeached under the 1987 Constitution.

Related: De Castro, two more justices to testify against Sereno - impeachment complainant

Sereno in a statement denied all allegations against her. She said she is just awaiting a copy of the complaint, and will file her response to the committee.

"These would include our concern that many of the allegations in the complaints are unsupported by evidence or rely mainly on hearsay consisting of newspaper clippings," Sereno said.

In an interview on CNN Philippines' News Night on Wednesday, Sereno's spokesperson, lawyer Carlo Cruz said there was not enough evidence to substantiate impeachment in Gadon's complaint.

Meanwhile, House Deputy Speaker Gwen Garcia, one of the 25 congressmen who endorsed the impeachment complaint, assured fairness in the proceedings.

"There is a supermajority, yes, in support of the President, and if we wanted to throw it our way around, we would not need to have this hearing actually, we would not need to have a proper process followed as defined under our rules of the House of Representatives," she said.

According to the Constitution, a vote of at least one-third of the members of the House of Representatives, or 98 out of the 292 incumbent congressmen, can start an impeachment trial at the Senate.

House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez earlier told The Source he wanted to find sufficient evidence before sending the case to the Senate.

Both Alejano and Garcia said Sereno should be given the chance to defend herself in the impeachment hearings.

House Justice Committee Chair Reynaldo Umali said the panel will submit to the plenary its report and resolution within the prescribed 60 session days or by March 2018.

CNN Philippines' Ina Andolong contributed to this report.