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Philippine congressional panel finds probable cause to impeach Supreme Court Chief Justice

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Senator Risa Hontiveros during his press conferrence in Pasay city August 24,2017

WOMEN'S DAY Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno (right) poses with Supreme Court Associate Justice Teresita de Castro (center) and movie actress and now Batangas Rep. Vilma Santos, during the annual convention of the country's judges in Manila.

The justice committee voted 38-2 to rule there was "probable cause" to impeach Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno based on 27 alleged acts, which a lawyer claimed amounted to "culpable violations" of the constitution, corruption, breach of public trust and other serious crimes. "Since it is nearly inevitable that I will sit as an impeachment court judge, I would rather not comment on any matter pertaining to the chief justice's impeachment", he said.

"This fight is a fight for judicial independence, for the right of every member of the Court to confront her accuser face to face in a trial type proceeding, where all allegations can be challenged, and all lies can be unmasked", Sereno said. "But I will not yield", she added. The SC junked the complaint because he may only be removed through impeachment.

Batocabe added that if Congress will allow the Supreme Court to remove Sereno due to a quo warranto petition, this will set a bad precedent and might weaken the impeachment process.

The impeachment case has also taken its toll on the judiciary, which is supposedly an independent body of government.

While Sereno was speaking in the forum, the House Justice panel also voted to determine if there is probable cause to impeach the Chief Justice.

Sereno had questioned the president's drug war, which has left over 4,000 dead so far, after he brandished an unverified list that supposedly contained names of government officials, mayors, soldiers, policemen and judges allegedly involved in the drug trade. One of the judges named on the list was later found out to have died before Duterte became president.

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In another speech Wednesday, she urged Filipinos to stand up to authoritarianism and threats to human rights, in an indirect criticism of Duterte.

"They just want to short-cut the process, betraying their anxieties that they will lose in the impeachment trial", she said.

The House Committee on Justice will prepare a report and submit it for approval before it is sent to the plenary for the vote of the entire House of Representatives on whether or not to impeach the Chief Justice.

"They (House members) went through the motions but they are not saying that they will file it".

Sereno has said the charges against her were fabricated.

The political analyst also noted that apart from impeachment, the petition for quo warranto questioning Sereno's qualifications, filed this week by the Office of the Solicitor General before the Supreme Court, was also part of efforts to pressure the chief justice to resign.

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