MANILA— The Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) has called on lawmakers to be cautious in filing impeachment complaints.
The IBP made the statement in the wake of the impeachment complaints now pending against Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno and Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman Andres Bautista and the possible filing of the same against Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales.
“May we express the hope that impeachment as a process is not being brandished as a weapon of submission, thereby defeating Constitutional design that the judicial branch be insulated from considerations other than the facts and the law in discharging its function of adjudication. It is an assault upon the Constitution and the very ideal of limited government that is enshrined in it, when impeachment is misused as the very tool to undermine judicial independence,” IBP national president Atty. Abdiel Dan Elijah S. Fajardo said in a statement Wednesday.
Fajardo reminded Congress that the Constitution “jealously protects the independence of the Judiciary as it is concededly the weakest of all three branches of government.”
It also added that the judiciary’s thrust is the rule of law and not public pulse, being the only unelected branch of government.
The IBP added that while impeachment is one of the Constitution’s tools to demand accountability, its frequent use could dilute its power and strain the limited power of Congress.
“Impeachment is a scalpel, not a broadsword and even if it were the latter, no sword retains its sharpness if swung too far and too often,” the IBP said.
“While we acknowledge diversity in our members’ views, as well as the need to balance democratic ideals, the IBP’s current leadership will closely and impartially monitor these proceedings with the view that our institutions are preserved, not diluted,” it added.
Sereno is facing impeachment complaints due to allegations of corruption for using public funds to finance an allegedly lavish lifestyle.
Earlier, 16 House members endorsed the impeachment complaint lodged against Sereno by the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) and the Vanguard of the Philippine Constitution a month after its initial filing.
VACC president Dante Jimenez and Vanguard president Eligio Mallari sought Sereno’s removal on the grounds of culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust.
Lawyer Larry Gadon filed another impeachment complaint against Sereno that was endorsed by 25 House members, including four Deputy Speakers.
In his complaint, Gadon accused the chief magistrate of culpable violation of the Constitution, corruption, other high crimes and betrayal of public trust.
Gadon stated that Sereno did not declare in her Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) the “exorbitant lawyer’s fees” of USD745,000 or PHP37 million which she received from the Philippine government.
The VACC also threatened to file impeachment raps against Morales for her alleged selective prosecution of cases in connection to the death of the SAF 44 in 2015 during the term of former President Benigno Aquino III.
Meanwhile, former Negros Oriental Rep. Jacinto Paras and lawyer Ferdinand Topacio sought Bautista’s ouster on the grounds of culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust amid allegations of hidden wealth hurled by the poll body chairman’s estranged wife Patricia Paz Bautista.
“Bautista culpably violated the Constitution and/or betrayed the public trust,” Topacio and Paras said in their impeachment complaint.
The verified impeachment complaint secured the endorsement of Deputy Speaker Gwendolyn Garcia, Kabayan Partylist Rep. Harry Roque, and Cavite Rep. Abraham Tolentino.
A complaint filed by any citizen should get the endorsement of a sitting congressman before it will be referred to the House committee on justice for hearing.