11 lawyers to represent Sereno at impeachment hearing
Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno will not face her accuser when the House justice committee resumes hearings on the impeachment complaint against her on Wednesday, despite the insistence of the chamber’s leadership that she face the charges against her personally.
Instead, Sereno executed a special power of attorney authorizing 11 lawyers to represent her at the hearings and telling the House justice committee that they may act on her behalf and exercise her rights, including cross-examining witnesses.
Sereno’s spokesperson, Josa Deinla, said she would not show up at the hearing on Wednesday, but would “attend the hearing through her counsel.”
“The representation of her counsel has been her position ever since the impeachment case was filed against her. This is consistent, as we have said in the past, to what is stated in the House rules and the Constitution,” Deinla said.
Sereno appointed as her attorneys-in-fact Alexander Poblador, Dino Vivencio Tamayo, Anzen Dy, Justin Christopher Mendoza, Carla Pingul, Sandra Mae Magalang, Jayson Aguilar, Oswald Imbat, Enrico Edmundo Castelo II, Charles Richard Avila Jr. and Patricia Geraldez.
In a letter to the House justice committee, Sereno said she was authorizing the lawyers “to act for and in my name and stead and to exercise my rights and to otherwise protect my interests in all stages of the impeachment proceeding.”
Rejecting Sereno’s insistence on representation by counsel, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez called her “insane.”
“She’s insane. It’s as if she’s not a lawyer. She knows it’s an impeachment case and she’s the one being impeached, not her lawyers,” Alvarez said in a radio interview on Monday, a transcript of which was provided to House reporters.
“This is personal. She must appear here and explain. She must face [the justice committee] and explain her side,” he said.
Sereno’s lawyers have repeatedly asserted her right to confront her accuser and the witnesses through counsel, but Alvarez and Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali, the justice committee chair, have insisted she must do the examination herself.
On Tuesday, Alvarez said the House would not honor any Supreme Court decision if Sereno asked the highest tribunal to block her impeachment.
“We will not honor it, we will not honor it,” Alvarez said at a forum on judicial reforms.
The 1987 Constitution is clear that the House has “exclusive jurisdiction … to hear and to accept impeachment cases.”
He said the House rejection would not cause a constitutional crisis because the legislative branch had the power to check abuses in the judiciary.
Sereno is just afraid of her own ghost, he said.
Nature of impeachment
If she has nothing to fear, she will appear at the hearing, he added.
Retired Chief Justice Reynato Puno, who was at the same forum, said Sereno could not go to the Supreme Court for remedy if the nature of her impeachment case was political.
Puno said it was important to clarify the nature of the impeachment case, whether it was political, judicial or quasijudicial.
“If it’s a purely political question, she cannot go to the [Supreme Court]. But if it’s not purely political and in a limited way, she could go to the Supreme Court,” he said.
Puno said he did not know whether Sereno’s impeachment case was political. This should be determined “initially” by Congress, he said.
If it is purely political, “the legislators will be answerable only to the people,” he said. “They will not be answerable to any branch of government.”
Lawyer Lorenzo Gadon brought the impeachment complaint against Sereno, accusing the Chief Justice of misdeclaring her finances, excessive use of judiciary funds, falsifying court resolutions and manipulating the processes of the Judicial and Bar Council, among other allegations.
Earlier, the House justice committee found the complaint sufficient in form and substance and deemed it had sufficient grounds.
On Wednesday, the panel will determine whether there is probable cause to impeach Sereno.
A vote of one-third of the 293 members of the House is needed to send the case to the Senate for trial.
‘Voice of reason’
Opposition lawmakers on Tuesday renewed their call to be allowed to take part in the impeachment proceedings.
In a press briefing, the opposition lawmakers said their arguments should at least be discussed on the justice committee.
Akbayan Rep. Tomasito Villarin said the opposition bloc wanted to be “the voice of reason” in the proceedings, especially since the complaint against Sereno was endorsed by members of the supermajority and the recognized minority groups.
“What will happen is that both the majority and the appointed minority will just go through this process as a [charade]. We don’t want [a charade],” Villarin said.
“They have the numbers, but the arguments should be heard from both sides. It appears that they want only their arguments to be heard,” he said.
“We should be allowed to participate on behalf of our constituents,” said Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman.
Since the justice committee’s actions would be subject to approval or rejection by the House plenary, lawmakers who do not belong to the panel should be allowed to participate so they “can have an informed vote,” Lagman said.
He said barring nonmembers from the impeachment hearing would be “anathema to a deliberative assembly.”
Villarin said excluding the opposition from the proceedings would be “oppressive and nondemocratic.”
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