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‘Rody tirades signal move toward dictatorship’

President Rodrigo Duterte's is edging closer to a dictatorship through his criciticisms of the ombudsman and the chief justice, according to Rep. Edcel Lagman. KING RODRIGUEZ/PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO/Released

MANILA, Philippines — Opposition Rep. Edcel Lagman of Albay warned the nation yesterday that President Duterte, by verbally assaulting Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno and Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, appears to be edging closer to being a dictator.

He told a news conference that the impeachment proceedings against Sereno and the threatened investigation and impeachment of Morales, “both apparently at the behest of President Duterte, are dubious and malevolent attempts to wreck democratic institutions.”

“With the impending destruction of democratic institutions even as Duterte already has full control of Congress, the military and police establishments and the bureaucracy, an authoritarian rule can be a harsh eventuality,” he said.

Lagman said the constitutionally guaranteed independence of the Supreme Court and the Office of the Ombudsman “is under siege without legitimate anchorage.”

He said the impeachment complaint filed by lawyer Lorenzo Gadon against Sereno “is a compendium of hearsay news accounts and the purported grounds do not constitute impeachable offenses.”

“Compounding the gravity of the situation is the decision of (Mindoro Oriental) Rep. Reynaldo Umali, chairman of the House committee on justice, to deny the counsel of Sereno the right to cross-examine on behalf of the Chief Justice the adverse witnesses,” he added.

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Umali has said it is the Chief Justice herself, not her lawyers, who could confront Gadon and at least three justices the complainant claims are willing to testify against Sereno.

He said a lawyer representing a respondent or a resource person in an impeachment process or a committee hearing is not allowed under the House rules to participate in deliberations.

Such lawyer can only advise his principal on his rights, though there are rare times when he is allowed to address the hearing committee, he said.

Some members of the committee on justice believe Sereno would not attend the impeachment hearings as congressmen wanting to grandstand could humiliate her.

Lagman said Umali might have misinterpreted the rules of the House on impeachment.

“The right to counsel by the accused or respondent is enshrined in the Bill of Rights and the right of cross-examination through counsel is protected under Philippine jurisprudence,” he said.

He said the impeachment rules do not state that only a respondent could grill witnesses.

He added that a respondent’s counsel in an impeachment process, unlike a lawyer assisting a witness in a committee hearing, could participate in proceedings.

“The role of the respondent’s counsel in impeachment proceedings is vastly more important and proactive than that of a counsel appearing for a resource person or witness in investigations in aid of legislation,” Lagman stressed.

In a related development, party-list group Magdalo supported yesterday the ombudsman’s investigation into the alleged ill-gotten wealth of the President and his family.

“The Magdalo stands firmly with Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, Deputy Ombudsman Arthur Carandang and all the men and women under her office, as they proceed with their investigation, as mandated by the Constitution, on the alleged ill-gotten wealth of President Duterte,” the group said in a statement.

“The Office of the Ombudsman already found basis to start its probe into the wealth of the President, and in doing its constitutional duties to ferret out the truth in the interest of the Filipino people, it should be free from intimidation and misinformation,” it said.

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