Rebuttal by email: House panel bars Sereno lawyers from questioning witnesses

Aleta Nieva Nishimori, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 22 2017 12:55 PM | Updated as of Nov 22 2017 01:20 PM

The House of Representatives justice committee on Wednesday voted 30-4 to reject the request of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno to let her counsel cross-examine witnesses.

Justice panel chairperson Rep. Reynaldo Umali said the panel had already voted not to allow non-members of the justice panel to participate in the deliberations.

“Malinaw na ang procedure natin. Only members can participate and likewise linawin lang natin, we are not depriving the respondent the right to cross-examine but they should do it through any members including the chair, kung mayroon silang gustong iparating sa committee na ito,” said

At least 25 lawmakers have endorsed lawyer Larry Gadon's impeachment complaint against Sereno.

Sereno’s camp noted the decision of the Committee to prohibit her lawyers from attending the hearing is “tantamount to barring CJ Sereno herself.”

Sereno's lawyers said they have no choice but to send real-time commentaries on the proceedings to present their rebuttal.

“It is deplorable that we should have to resort to rebuttal by email just to ensure that our side is heard. It is apparent that the pursuit of truth has been put aside in favor of biased political interest. The Chief Justice maintains that she is innocent of the charges against her,” the camp stated.

Sereno is accused of misdeclaring her wealth, having an extravagant lifestyle and bypassing her colleagues in the issuance of administrative orders.

The committee continued its hearing on the impeachment complaint against the Chief Justice that was filed last October 22.

NO RIGHT TO COUNSEL?

However, Sereno was a no show during the hearing and was instead represented by her legal team.

“I am surprised that the Chief Justice and her lawyers even filed this motion asking that they be given the right to cross-examine the complainant. This is a clearly established jurisprudence already,” said majority floor leader Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas.

Fariñas added, “In your motion, you said this is akin to the rules in criminal procedures and I cite to you the case of Estrada vs Ombudsman dated January 21, 2015 where a unanimous Supreme Court held that Sen. Estrada does not even have the right to demand that he be furnished copies of the counter affidavits of his correspondence and the Chief Justice, respondent Sereno herein, concurred to this decision.”

Fariñas stressed that they are conducting the hearing to see if there is enough evidence to impeach Sereno.

“Kaya nga kami naghe-hearing dito para himay-himayin namin ito at gagawa tayo ng articles of impeachment na pulido pero yung respondent mo, she cannot demand that she can cross-examine the witnesses here. That will come in the trial, pag nag trial. For all we know, baka ma-dismiss ito,” he said.

He further pointed out that it would be “absurd” to allow Sereno’s request.

“Why? For example, the complainants are members of this House, they are also the investigators and hearing officers…you will cross examine the House of Representatives? Absurd na yun! Ikaw na nga iniimbistigahan ko, ako iko-cross examine mo. Ganun mangyayari kung papayagan namin,” he said.

He added that even if they find probable cause to proceed with the impeachment, it is still the plenary that will have the final vote on the matter.