MANILA - A constitutional crisis would erupt if the lawyers of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno enjoin the Supreme Court to intervene in the impeachment proceedings against her, the chairperson of the House justice committee warned Tuesday.
Sereno has refused to attend the proceedings, insisting her lawyers can question witnesses on her behalf. House leaders however said this was against the rules of procedure, which state that only resource persons are allowed to speak, and not their lawyers.
The Chief Justice's camp said they would question the alleged denial of her right to counsel before the high court if the lower house bars her lawyers from speaking in the next hearings, reports said.
"There is no other power that can look into the impeachment proceedings except Congress," Representative Reynaldo Umali told DZMM.
"Dapat po ang hudikatura ay hindi po nanghihimasok," he added.
(The judiciary should not interfere.)
Umali said the impeachment is "beyond the power of judicial review" because under the Constitution, only the House can initiate ouster proceedings and only the Senate can hear and decide cases.
Sereno was accused of misdeclaring her wealth, having an extravagant lifestyle and bypassing her colleagues in the issuance of administrative orders.
Umali's committee earlier voted that the complaint against her was sufficient in form and substance despite the use of newspaper clippings as evidence. On Wednesday, the panel would determine whether or not the case has probable cause.
If Sereno skips the 9:30 a.m. hearing, she would forfeit her right to refute the accusations and force congressmen to "resolve the case on the basis of the evidence at hand," said Umali.
A member of the academe however said he does not see why lawyers should not be allowed to represent Sereno when "the right to counsel is a basic right."
At the same time, he said the Constitution mandates the Supreme court to look into possible irregularities in all branches of government, including Sereno's plight at the House.
"The power of the Supreme Court to determine whether there is any grave abuse of discretion power, according to Article 8 Section 1 of our Constitution, is all-encompassing," San Beda College of Law Dean Fr. Ranhilio Aquino said in a separate DZMM interview.
Aquino urged the government to refrain from using impeachment to threaten political foes.
"It is time to stop that abusive process kasi wala ring masisiira kundi tayo at ang ating paniniwala sa batas," he said.
(It is time to stop that abusive process because we our only destroying ourselves and our belief in the law.)