MANILA (UPDATE) - The camp of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno said Tuesday the chief magistrate would send on her behalf a team of lawyers to the impeachment proceedings at the House of Representatives, asserting her right to counsel.
In a two-page letter sent to House Justice committee chair Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali, Sereno's legal team led by Alex Poblador said that the chief magistrate "has chosen to attend the 22 November 2017 hearing through her legal counsel.”
Sereno has executed a Special Power of Attorney that authorizes her lawyers to "exercise and protect her rights and interests in all stages of the impeachment proceedings."
“The Chief Justice need not repeat her position as stated in the Motion of her counsel that in the impeachment proceeding before the Honorable Committee, she has the right to appear through counsel and a denial thereof is a violation of due process,” Sereno’s lawyers said.
“Since the Honorable Committee appears to be interested in the truth behind the charges leveled against the Chief Justice, then it should welcome the cross-examination of complainant’s witnesses by the Chief Justice’s lawyers,” they added.
The House has maintained that only the Chief Justice herself may participate in the hearings, exercise her right to defend herself, and confront her accusers.
But Josa Deinla, one of Sereno's spokespersons, said the chief magistrate is "only exercising her right to counsel." She also cited Sereno's "immense tasks and responsibilities" as Chief Justice.
Deinla said Sereno's legal team would confront and cross-examine witnesses during the impeachment hearings as the chief magistrate has already aired her side through the verified answer and verified rejoinder she earlier filed.
"Since the Honorable Committee appears to be interested in the truth behind the charges leveled against the Chief Justice, then it should welcome the cross-examination of complainant’s witnesses by the Chief Justice’s lawyers," Poblador said.
A denial of Sereno's right to appear through her lawyers is a violation of due process, he said.
Sereno's legal counsels said they hope the hearing would not be a "fishing expedition for evidence" against the chief justice.
Lawyer Carlo Cruz, a spokesperson for Sereno, said having the Chief Justice appear at the impeachment proceedings would mean that her court work might "suffer."
"She also has to handle her work. She is not only administrator but she is a jurist, a member of the Supreme Court, and you know it's a very busy court so she has to attend to her duties as well," he said on ANC's Beyond Politics.
"Why should she personally appear for purposes of defending herself when she has placed every confidence in her counsel led by Atty. Alex Poblador?" he added.
In October, the House Committee on Justice found an impeachment complaint against Sereno sufficient in form and substance.
The complaint, filed by lawyer Lorenzo Gadon, stemmed from several accusations, including Sereno's alleged non-disclosure of fees she got from a case involving the controversial Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3 (NAIA-3) in her 2010 SALN.
Sereno's lawyers said they would wait for Gadon to substantiate his charges despite his admission that he has no personal knowledge to support his complaint.
"Let's not forget that the House Justice Committee junked an impeachment case against President Rodrigo Duterte in May based on the complainant’s lack of personal knowledge," Sereno's lawyers said.
SPEAKER ASSERTS SERENO SHOULD APPEAR IN HEARINGS
House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, meanwhile, advised Sereno to take advantage of the opportunity the House is giving her to defend herself.
He noted that despite having the numbers to immediately bring the impeachment case to the Senate for trial, the House is giving Sereno the opportunity to cross examine the witnesses and refute allegations against her.
"Binigyan namin ng due process dito sa House of Representatives, pinapayagan namin sila na magprisenta rin, magpaliwanag nung kanilang panig. At kung makita namin na talagang tama siya at talagang walang basehan 'yung impeachment complaint against her, hindi na namin paabutin 'yan sa Senado, doon sa impeachment court," Alvarez added.
But Alvarez insisted that Sereno should personally appear before the committee hearing Wednesday to face her accusers. He said the committee would not allow her lawyers to represent her in the hearing unless she is personally present.
"Kasi dapat nating tandaan na hindi naman sila (mga lawyers) 'yung ini-impeach; hindi sila 'yung subject nung impeachment complaint. Kami naman papayagan namin na she will be assisted by her counsel pero kailangan nandun siya," Alvarez said.
Likewise, Alvarez said, Sereno should refrain from diverting attention from the case by rehashing old issues.
In an interview on ANC's Headstart aired Monday, Sereno had said impeachment proceedings should not be used for personal vengeance.
This was her response when asked is she believes Alvarez had a hand in the complaint to get back at her over the case involving NAIA-3 builder Philippine International Air Terminals Co. Inc. (Piatco).
Alvarez, a former senior assistant general manager at the Manila International Airport Authority, was accused of awarding the allegedly "grossly disadvantageous" NAIA-3 build-operate-transfer contract to Philippine International Air Terminals Co. Inc (Piatco).
Sereno, as then co-counsel of the Office of the Solicitor General, had represented the government in arbitration proceedings against Piatco, where the firm eventually lost and was ordered to pay some P1 billion.
"'Wag mo na akong isama diyan. Ginawaga mo pa akong dahilan. Hindi naman ako kasama doon sa impeachment mo. Hindi ako ang inireklamo," Alvarez said.
He stressed that he faced the cases filed against him in the courts and never resorted to blaming anybody for these.
"Na-dismiss po lahat ng mga kaso na 'yun at napatunayan na wala ako talagang kinalaman doon, wala akong kasalanan. Ngayon, ang mahirap dito kay Chief Justice ay palagay ko ay natatakot po siya sa sariling multo dahil alam na alam niya na 'yung ginawa nila sa akin noon ay talagang nag-imbento sila ng mga accusations against me," Alvarez said. --with a report from RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News