Trillanes moves to have Sereno 'interrogated'

by Ira Pedrasa, ABS-CBNnews.com

Posted at Feb 23 2012 05:34 PM | Updated as of Feb 24 2012 06:22 AM

Senators to decide on Trillanes' motion on Monday

Prosecutors to ask Senate to invite Sereno

MANILA, Philippines (4th UPDATE) - Senator-judge Antonio Trillanes IV asked the impeachment court to “allow a written interrogation” of Supreme Court Associate Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.

Trillanes said this was necessary in light of the relevance of Sereno's knowledge of the circumstances behind the high court’s ruling on the Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) on the watch list order (WLO) barring former Pres. Arroyo from leaving the country last November.

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile said this will be taken up in a caucus on Monday.

In an ambush interview after the proceedings, Enrile told reporters the Senate cannot just subpoena Sereno to appear in court. “We cannot force her to come.”

He said the written interrogation is a “system of discovery” authorized by the rules of court. The only problem is that the defense will not be able to cross-examine Sereno, he said.

Nonetheless, there are also problems that may arise from such a process. “Alam mo, yung interrogatories is done only when for instance, you have a pending case, yung magiging testigo mo ay baka mamatay, o maging invalid at hindi na makapunta sa husgado.”

He said all these will be ironed out on Monday.

Asked if the Senate would be interested in hearing Sereno’s story, he said: “If she wants to come, we will hear her.”

Even before the impeachment trial started last January 16, talks were already rife that the first appointee of President Benigo Aquino would be appearing in the impeachment trial. She has yet to confirm or deny the reports.

Hearsay

Trillanes asked for Sereno's "written interrogation" after Enrile urged senators to disregard the opinions of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima on the falsity or truthfulness of the alleged irregularities in the SC's ruling.

Enrile said de Lima’s opinions are just hearsay since she does not have any personal knowledge of the goings-on in the SC. Enrile, however, allowed to remain on record the facts that de Lima narrated based on the dissenting opinion of Sereno.

“[But up to the extent] of the truth or falsity…whether [Chief Justice Renato Corona] influenced the [stay order] or not, it’s mere hearsay,” Enrile said.

The Senate earlier quashed the prosecution’s move to subpoena the justices, citing the principle of “separation of powers.”

By a vote of 8-5 last November 15, 2011, the high court decided to issue a TRO on the watch list order against Mrs. Arroyo and her husband, Mike.

In a resolution on November 29, the high court, by a vote of 7-6, upheld the earlier TRO.

Sereno then claimed the November 29 resolution did not reflect what really took place during a full court meeting.

Sereno alleged Corona corrected the draft TRO ruling, which Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco later incorporated in the November 29 resolution. Velasco is the ponente or author of the case.

Sereno said Corona also instructed SC spokesman Jose Midas Marquez to mislead the public by saying the TRO was still in effect even if Arroyo was not able to comply with the conditions attached to it.

Senator-judge Panfilo Lacson suggested that the prosecution look for other means to provide depth to Sereno’s dissent following Enrile's decision on de Lima’s testimony.

Prosecutor Raul Daza said the Supreme Court has already issued a resolution barring its members from testifying about its internal workings.

He explained a magistrate, if he or she wishes to testify, would need a waiver from the high court. “Baka sa sariling kusa…baka maaawa si Justice Sereno,” Daza said.

Invitation to Sereno

Prosecutor Neri Colmenares then said that the prosecution will file a motion seeking to have the Senate invite Sereno, whose testimony “is relevant.”

Senator-judge Alan Peter Cayetano asked both de Lima and Colmenares if someone, such as a justice, has come up to them to validate Sereno’s allegations.

“Mas maganda kung may madala kayo dito, para diretsahan na ang tanong,” Cayetano said.

He said the prosecution should be able to draw the line and to distinguish between Corona’s mere “advocating” and “influencing” other members of the high court. “So is it already impeachable na namaniobra nya [ang ibang justices] or normal lang na nakakumbinsi sya?”

De Lima declined to answer and invoked “executive privilege."

Colmenares said they themselves were not approached by anyone from the Supreme Court.

He insisted, however, that the dissent of Sereno and the other justices’ opinions regarding the controversial TRO already provides a glimpse into the alleged impartiality of Corona.

The prosecution also earlier said Corona voted in favor of Arroyo in 31 cases lodged before the Supreme Court. They said this redounds to 80% of the cases.

Collegial decision

The defense lawyers earlier said Corona should not be blamed for a decision that is entirely that of the Supreme Court. They said Corona is just one out of 15 justices.

“He [Corona] can’t hide behind the cloak of collegiality. The Constitution requires that each justice should be impartial, independent,” Colmenares said.

Lead defense lawyer Serafin Cuevas later said: “I’m inclined to believe that he [Colmenares] is very knowledgeable. He should take the witness stand so we can cross-examine him…He’s impregnating the case unnecessarily.”