MANILA (UPDATE) - Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno "looks forward" to her impeachment trial at the Senate as she is counting on the chamber for fairness after the House of Representatives justice committee rejected her bid to be represented by counsel at a hearing Wednesday.
Lawyer Josa Deinla, a spokesperson of Sereno, said the House panel's ruling marks a "sad day for justice" but expressed hopes that the top magistrate will have her "day in court."
“This is a sad day for justice in this country that the Chief Justice, who has fought steadfastly to uphold the Constitution and the right of the citizens, has now been denied her own constitutional rights,” Deinla said in a statement.
“The Chief Justice is eager to defend herself consistent with her rights and looks forward to her trial before the Senate, where she is hopeful her rights will be fully respected,” she added.
In a 30-4 vote, members of the House justice committee on Wednesday junked Sereno's request to let her counsel cross-examine witnesses to be presented at the panel's proceedings to determine probable cause on the complaint against her.
Lawyer Alex Poblador, lead legal counsel of Sereno, urged the House committee to speed up the impeachment proceedings if lawmakers believe there is a strong case against the top magistrate.
“It is our inclination to have the proceedings in the Committee expedited. If they (members) believe that the complainant has evidence then, by all means, prepare and file the articles of impeachment,” Poblador told reporters Wednesday.
Poblador is also confident that they would be able to defend the Chief Justice before the Senate when it acts as an impeachment court.
“We look forward to have this case brought before the Senate and we are confident that we will be able to defend the Chief Justice there consistent with her constitutional rights,” he said.
Sereno is accused by lawyer Lorenzo Gadon of misdeclaring her wealth, having an extravagant lifestyle and bypassing her colleagues in the issuance of administrative orders, among others.
The House justice committee earlier voted that Gadon's complaint against Sereno was sufficient in form and substance despite the use of newspaper clippings as evidence.
Sereno's camp also reiterated that Sereno has the prerogative on how she would exercise her right to cross-examination—in person or through counsel of her choice.
“The right to cross-examine through counsel is so fundamental, that the option to dispense with the assistance of counsel is entirely the prerogative of the respondent,” Deinla said, noting that an impeachment proceeding "partakes of the nature of a criminal case or a criminal investigation.”
“Cross-examination through counsel is not only part of due process, it will even aid the Committee in finding out the truth about the allegations against the Chief Justice,” she added.
The Chief Justice's camp also slammed the House justice committee rule that restricts the role of the counsel of a witness, saying it only covers inquiries in aid of legislation.
“As such, she has the rights of an accused in criminal cases or of a person under investigation which includes the right to cross-examination through counsel,” Deinla said.