Gadon, impeach endorsers to cross-examine Sereno?

RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 29 2017 01:46 PM

The House Committee on Justice may set the stage for a face to face showdown between Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno and accuser Lorenzo Gadon after the committee’s chairman said that Sereno’s right to confront her accusers cannot be extended to her lawyers.

Sereno's lawyers filed a letter to the justice committee reiterating their bid to get the impeachment complaint against her dismissed and that she be allowed to confront her accusers should it proceed.

The letter, signed by lawyers Alex Poblador, Dino Vivencio Tamayo and Anzen Dy, cited Section 6 of the rules on impeachment proceedings, part of which read, “If the Committee finds that sufficient grounds for impeachment exist, the Committee shall conduct a hearing. The Committee, through the Chairperson, may limit the period of examination and cross-examination.”

The letter said if the committee decides to conduct a hearing, "we understand that the parties would be allowed to present evidence in support of the charges or defenses, as the case may be."

Section 6 of the House Rules speaks of the submission of evidence during the hearing, and indicates that the committee has the "power to issue compulsory processes for the attendance of witnesses and the production of documents and other related evidence."

The letter also cited Section 16 of the House Rules which provides that the “Rules of Criminal Procedure under the Rules of Court shall, as far as practicable, apply to impeachment proceedings before the House."

SERENO LAWYERS CAN'T CONFRONT ACCUSERS

Justice Committee chairman Rep. Reynaldo Umali said Sereno’s right to confront her accusers cannot be extended to her lawyers.

Section 3 (e), Rule 112 of the Revised Rules on Criminal Procedure, which prohibits examination and cross-examination, does not apply to impeachment proceedings before the House because it is in direct conflict with Section 6 of the House Rules which allows cross-examination.

Therefore, it would not be practicable to apply this rule in the impeachment proceedings before the justice committee.

The letter asks Justice Committee Chair Rey Umali to confirm statements made to media allowing Sereno to confront her accusers. 

"We respectfully ask the Hon. Chairman to confirm these reports. If he did make these statements, then he 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," wrote the Chief Justice's lawyers.

Umali told media over the phone that ultimately it will be decided by the committee through a vote, noting also that the rules of the House bar lawyers from talking in proceedings so the right to confront accusers is exclusive to Sereno. 

“Examination and cross examination is allowed under our rules but you will have to reconcile that with the rules of the House of Representatives where we only allow resource persons to talk not their lawyers...That can be reconciled if perhaps...I'm not sure yet. I don't want to preempt the decision," he said.

"Anyway seasoned lawyer naman, Chief Justice pa siya, then probably we may allow her herself to conduct the cross examination in like manner we will allow, para fair sa lahat," he added.

Gadon may also conduct his cross examination, said Umali.

"You have 2 lawyers pitted against each other. One, a complainant; the other, a respondent. So you know baka this may be allowed," he said. 

IMPEACH ENDORSERS TO QUESTION SERENO?

Umali also said the justice committee may also choose to let lawmakers who endorsed the Gadon complaint to question Sereno.

A total of 25 lawmakers have endorsed Gadon's complaint against Sereno including Cebu Rep. Gwen Garcia, South Cotabato Rep. Ferdinand Hernandez, Palawan Rep. Frederick Abueg, Davao City Rep. Mylene Garcia-Albano, Coop-Natcco Rep. Anthony Bravo, Surigao del Norte Rep. Francisco “Bingo” Matugas II, Samar Rep. Edgar Sarmiento, Isabela Rep. Rodolfo Albano III, LPGMA Rep. Arnel Ty, Pampanga Rep. Aurelio “Dong” Gonzales Jr., Malabon City Rep. Federico Sandoval II, Davao Oriental Rep. Joel Mayo Almario, Antipolo City Rep. Romeo Acop, Quezon City Rep. Vincent Crisologo, South Cotabato Rep. Pedro Acharon Jr., Camiguin Rep. Xavier Jesus Romualdo. Palawan Rep. Gil Acosta, Zamboanga Sibugay Rep. Ann Hofer, Quezon City Rep. Winnie Castelo, PBA Rep. Jericho Nograles, Manila Rep. John Nieto, Surigao Del Norte Rep. Robert Ace Barbers, Southern Leyte Rep. Roger Mercado, Davao Occidental Rep. Lorna Bautista Bandigan, and Cavite Rep. Jennifer Barzaga.

"What may be allowed is the lawyers coursing questions through well yung on the part of the complainant merong mga endorsers naman yan, who are also lawyers. We can allow the endorsers to do that and of course that is not to deprive any member of his mandate to interpellate," Umali said.

A plain reading of the rules of the House in the 17th Congress however does not establish this prohibition. 

Sereno's lawyers said it would not be acceptable for committee members to do the cross-examination. 

"At this stage of the process, they are judges or quasi-judges whose duty, like the investigating officer in preliminary investigations, is to determine probable cause," the lawyers said. 

"Preliminary investigations are essentially judicial proceedings. The Committee Members will become Prosecutors and not mere investigating officers only when the impeachment process reaches the Senate which will act as the impeachment court," they added. 

Umali, however, said Sereno's lawyers can just find congressional allies who will ask their questions for them. 

“We will not allow the lawyers to speak to do cross examination because that is not allowed by the rules of the House; only the resource persons, the respondent--in my own interpretation of our own rules--may be allowed to do that," he said.

"We don't allow lawyers to speak, only the resource persons, but they are not deprived of the right to cross examine the witness, except that they cannot do it personally. They have to do it through the congressmen. In this particular case siguro through the chair. We are not depriving anyone of his or her right."

The lawyers also asked for “confirmation of the Chief Justice’s right through counsel to object to improper questions during the direct examination of complainant's witnesses."

"We likewise take this occasion to request pursuant to Section 3{b), Rule 112 of the Rules of Criminal Procedure, which has suppletory effect in the proceeding before the Hon. Committee (as it is not in conllict with any of the House Rules), that we be provided with any evidence, testimonial, documentary or object, which has been (or may be) submitted to the Hon. Committee in support of the charges against the Chief Justice.”

Umali, however said, the Sereno camp "can probably find an ally who will support her cause and articulate whatever cross examination questions they want to throw to the witness."

CHIEF JUSTICE TO CROSS-EXAMINE WITNESSES?

In a statement read by spokesperson Josa Deinla, Sereno's spokesperson lawyer Carlo Cruz reminded lawmakers that the chief magistrate has been cooperative. 

“Despite the perjurious nature of the complaint and the dubious method of obtaining documents that may be used against her, she did not object to the Supreme Court's release of these documents. Despite the short amount of time, she complied and filed her answer, responding to all points and attaching all necessary documents.”

Sereno’s camp said there were "alarming indications" that she will be denied the right to cross-examine those that will testify against her. 

"All the Chief Justice asks of Congress as a co-equal branch of government is that the latter be fair and follow their own rules as the impeachment proceedings unfold. These rules clearly state the chief justices right to cross-examine any witness that may be put on the stand. She asserts this right.”

Asked for their basis for this claim, Deinla said: "May mga balita tayong naririnig na ipagkakait sa kaniya yung right to cross examination. Hindi ko ma-cite in particular ito ugong-ugong lang naririnig lang natin from friends, allies. May mga ganun daw na balita posible di makapagtanong si Chief Justice sa mga witnesses na ipe-present ng complainant laban sa kaniya."

Dy added in an ambush interview: "When the rules provide for cross-examination that means that its the adverse party’s right to confront the witnesses."

"In this case if the complainant will be presenting witnesses and its the Chief Justice who should be conducting the cross-examination," he said.

Asked if Sereno herself will appear before the committee, Dy said the chief justice "will be attending via counsel."

"It will be the counsel to propound questions to the witnesses," he said.

Umali, however, said: "May right din siya to confront the witness. Then if she wants, she can confront personally or we may subject to the decision of the committee on justice. We may allow her personally to cross examine. If she doesn't appear, how can she do that?"

The Sereno camp has an ally in Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, who said her request be afforded the right to confront and cross-examine through her counsel "is in order and consistent with the Constitution on the rights of the accused or respondent and the Rules of the House on Impeachment Proceedings.”