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Sereno seeks to confront justices in impeach case

Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno served notice yesterday to the House of Representatives about her plan to confront the complainant in her impeachment case and the six Supreme Court justices who would testify against her. SC, File

MANILA, Philippines — Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno served notice yesterday to the House of Representatives about her plan to confront the complainant in her impeachment case and the six Supreme Court justices who would testify against her.

In a three-page manifestation submitted to the House committee on justice, her defense counsels Alexander Poblador, Dino Vivencio Tamayo and Anzen Dy reminded its chairman, Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali, about the rules on impeachment that include the attendance of witnesses. 

Section 6 of House rules provide the submission of evidence during the impeachment hearing, where the committee also has the power to compel the attendance of witnesses and the production of documents and other related evidence. 

The chamber allows the complainant, in this case Lorenzo Gadon, as well as the respondent (Sereno) the right to examine and cross-examine the witnesses to be presented during the hearing, subject to reasonable time limits. 

Gadon has repeatedly declared that six still unidentified incumbent justices have expressed willingness to attend the hearings and testify before the committee to bolster and reaffirm the SC documents they provided to Gadon. 

“Indeed, it would make no sense to declare the honorable committee’s prerogative to impose reasonable time limits on direct and cross-examination questions, if these rights are not available in the first place,” the defense lawyers pointed out.  

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Sereno’s counsels also believe that those who would testify during the impeachment hearings “would not be mere resource persons but full-fledged witnesses,” which makes it imperative for the lawyers to “be cross-examined by her counsel on her behalf.”  

They also stated in their letter that Umali “must agree that because the Chief Justice has the right to confront the witnesses in the hearings before the committee on justice, then she should be allowed to cross-examine those witnesses through her counsel.” 

“It would not be acceptable for committee members to conduct the cross-examination themselves, because at this stage, they are judges or quasi-judges whose duty, like the investigating officer in preliminary investigations, is to determine probable cause.”  

Umali, for his part, advised the chief magistrate to attend the proceedings herself. 

“We are not depriving anyone of his or her right to confront witnesses. If she wants to confront witnesses, she can confront them personally, subject to the decision of the body politic,” he told reporters in a phone interview. 

He clarified that impeachment rules do not allow respondents represented by their lawyers.

Umali explained that Sereno’s request for cross-examination of witnesses would still be subject to the approval of the committee members.

“Hindi naman lahat ng (not all the) congressman ay pabor sa (are in favor of) impeachment. So they have to find an ally who will support her cause.”

Umali explained that defense lawyers are barred from directly participating in the proceedings, stressing all they could do is to seek the assistance of a sympathetic congressman who may throw questions to the witnesses – on their behalf – for cross-examination.

He said if the lawmakers vote for sufficiency of grounds, “then we will go to hearings. Then that’s when the complainant and respondent would be invited to present their case.” 

Lawyer Carlo Cruz, a spokesman for Sereno, also hinted of some House members’ bias against the Chief Justice. 

“As the charges against her are deliberated upon, there are alarming indications that she will be denied the right to cross-examine those that will bear witness against her,” Cruz declared, without giving more details. 

Cruz’s statement was read by his associate lawyer Josa Deinla.

“All the CJ asks of Congress is that the latter be fair and follow their own rules as the impeachment proceedings unfold. These rules clearly state the CJ’s right to cross-examine any witness that may be put on the stand. She asserts her right,” he added.

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