Sereno wants to grill witnesses against her
Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno on Thursday invoked her right to cross-examine the witnesses to be called by the House justice committee in the looming impeachment hearing against her.
Her lawyers submitted a letter to the House panel asserting her fundamental right to confront witnesses against her and to cross-examine them, citing provisions in the 1987 Constitution and the impeachment rules of the House of Representatives.
If her wish is granted, the Chief Justice will not personally do the cross-examination but “through counsel,” her camp said.
The House justice committee is still in the process of determining sufficiency of grounds for Sereno’s impeachment. If the grounds are deemed sufficient, the case will proceed to a determination of probable cause, in which case a hearing will be set.
If probable cause is established and upheld by a one-third vote of the 293-member House, Sereno will be deemed impeached and she will be tried by the Senate, with the senators serving as judges and House members as prosecutors.
In their letter, Sereno’s lawyers Alexander Poblador, Dino Vivencio Tamayo and Anzen Dy said the House rules “afford the complainant and the respondent the right to examine and cross-examine, albeit subject to reasonable time limits.”
“Unlike other rules of procedure for the determination of ‘probable cause,’ the House rules do not prohibit the parties from examining or cross-examining witnesses. On the contrary, the House rules allow both ‘examination’ and ‘cross-examination’ of witnesses,” they said.
The House impeachment rules state that if the committee finds sufficient grounds for impeachment, it will conduct a hearing, and the committee, through the chair, “may limit the period of examination and cross-examination.”
“The committee shall have the power to issue compulsory processes for the attendance of witnesses and the production of documents and other related evidence,” according to the impeachment rules.
Under the Bill of Rights of the 1987 Constitution, the accused in criminal prosecutions has, among other things, the “right to meet the witnesses face to face.”
In an interview with reporters, another Sereno lawyer, Josa Deinla, said the Chief Justice would not do the cross-examination herself but her counsel.
Put to a vote
Rep. Reynaldo Umali, chair of the justice committee, said the panel would put Sereno’s letter to a vote, though he added it was unlikely her lawyers would be allowed to speak during the hearing.
Assuming the House panel found sufficient grounds for impeachment and set a hearing to determine probable cause, Umali said only Sereno, as the respondent, would be allowed to question her accusers—not her lawyers.
Sereno has submitted her reply to the impeachment complaint filed by lawyer Lorenzo Gadon, who accused her of not declaring her real wealth, buying a luxury car with government funds and making questionable decisions without consulting fellow magistrates.
Asked for comment on the letter of Sereno’s lawyer, Gadon called it an “unnecessary motion.”
Support for Sereno’s bid
But opposition lawmakers supported Sereno’s move.
Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman said Sereno’s lawyers’ assertion of her right to cross-examination was “in order and consistent with the Constitution on the rights of the accused or respondent and the Rules of the House on Impeachment Proceedings.”
Lagman said the House rules clearly granted the respondent the right of cross-examination “and the only limitation is the authority of the chair to reasonably delimit the period of such cross-examination, but not to deny the same.”
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate said: “The Chief Justice should be given the opportunity to confront the witnesses against her, even at the level of the House of Representatives in the determination of probable cause.”
Reply to Sereno answer
Also on Thursday, Gadon replied to Sereno’s answer to his impeachment complaint, describing it as “nothing but a litany of lamentable lies and lame logic.”
In his reply submitted to the justice committee, Gadon sought to refute point by point the Chief Justice’s assertions in her earlier answer to the allegations made against her.
Gadon rejected Sereno’s claims that she fully disclosed her wealth in her statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) when she joined the judiciary.
“She argues that the lawyer’s fees she received in connection with her engagement as legal counsel in the Piatco cases, which she received between 2004 [and] 2009, did not remain intact until 2010. Another brazen lie!” he said.
“In fine, her unsubstantiated allegations remain just that—unsubstantiated. This will seriously be refuted during the evidentiary hearing,” Gadon said.
“She likewise argues that assuming that she indeed failed to truthfully disclose her SALN, this was done before she joined the judiciary in 2010 and hence, is not an impeachable offense. It may not yet be an impeachable offense, but it already displays a despicable mind,” he said.
Gadon also rebutted Sereno’s claim that her acquisition of a Toyota Land Cruiser was neither an extravagant purchase nor an illegal use of public funds because it was approved by the full court in a March 2017 resolution.