MANILA, Philippines – Senator-judge Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan has urged his fellow senator-judges to assert the impeachment court's authority in the ongoing trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona.
Pangilinan, in a press statement, said the Supreme Court (SC) “has gone too far in trying to limit the powers of the impeachment court” in relation to the move to block the testimony of Associate Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno on account of “judicial privilege.”
The senator-judge, who is a lawyer, acknowledged that the concept of judicial privilege does exist, but he stressed that “it cannot be invoked to cover-up for wrongdoing—nor can it be invoked to undermine or defeat the Constitutional mandate of the Senate having the sole power to try and decide impeachment cases.”
“Moreover, it is most unfortunate that the Supreme Court has taken this path of non-disclosure and strict confidentiality when transparency and accountability are hallmarks of the 1987 Constitution. For any witness in the judiciary to secure the consent of the Supreme Court before they can testify before the impeachment court undermines our powers and prerogatives as the only constitutional check to excesses in the Supreme Court,” Pangilinan said.
Under the internal rules of the Supreme Court, judicial privilege is a cloak of confidentiality that protects statements on pending cases and deliberations between magistrates on matters before them.
Pangilinan said the Senate court should take necessary steps to prevent “unwarranted incursions on the impeachment proceedings.”
“We cannot allow the Supreme Court to dictate, by way of restraining orders and court rulings, how we are to try and decide this case,” the senator said. “The trouble here is that our respect for the TRO (temporary restraining order) has emboldened the Supreme Court to further limit and cut down our powers and prerogatives as a court.”
Pangilinan said that the impeachment court may soon lose its power as the sole body mandated to try impeachment cases against government officials if they allow the SC to interfere.
“Unless we do something about this now, pretty soon our sole power to try and decide impeachment cases will become a joint undertaking with the Supreme Court, but with the impeachment court as a junior partner,” Pangilinan said.
“Only when the impeachment court asserts its authority will the Supreme Court back off from its acts of obstruction in matters over which they have no jurisdiction,” he added.
Pangilinan also stressed that the SC has exceeded the limits of its judicial authority by issuing a TRO on the subpoena issued by the Senate court on the alleged dollar accounts of Corona.
“First, they TRO’d our subpoena, now they have limited our powers to summon witnesses. What’s next? Voiding the trial altogether? They have exceeded the limits of their judicial authority.”
On Day 23 of the Corona trial, the testimony of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima on the alleged irregularities in the TRO that the Supreme Court issued against the travel restraint on former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was dismissed as hearsay.
This prompted the prosecution panel to send a request to the Senate court to invite Sereno to testify on Article 7 of the impeachment complaint, which accuses the chief justice of "distorting the Supreme Court decision on the effectivity of the TRO in view of a clear failure to comply with the conditions of the TRO."
Senator-judge Antonio Trillanes IV, meanwhile, proposed to the Senate court to send interrogatory questions to Sereno if she does not want to appear in court.
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile said the matter will be discussed by the senator-judges on Monday.