House: Sereno won’t be arrested for not showing up at hearing
Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno will not face arrest even if she chooses to ignore invitations to appear at the impeachment hearing in the House of Representatives, Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas said on Tuesday, allaying fears raised by two senators about a looming “constitutional crisis.”
Speaking at a news conference, Fariñas said Sereno, as a respondent in an impeachment case, enjoyed the right not to appear in the proceedings to defend herself.
“In any case, whether administrative or not, you cannot force the respondent or the accused to testify. That’s their call. In administrative cases, the respondent may even waive the right to give an answer,” he said.
Senators Franklin Drilon and Francis Escudero on Monday said lawmakers had no power to issue a subpoena or order the arrest of Sereno in an impeachment hearing.
Drilon said the power of Congress to issue a subpoena and order the detention of a witness, who refused to obey the summons, applied only to investigations in aid of legislation, not in impeachment proceedings.
A matter of respect
Escudero shared his colleague’s view that respondents in impeachment cases could not be compelled to give evidence against themselves.
Fariñas said one could not be forced to submit an answer. “If you don’t answer, it’s tantamount to a general denial.”
He said it was a matter of respect.
“We do not need to force her,” Fariñas said, referring to Sereno. Such courtesy, however, did not extend to any person who might be invited or summoned by the House committee as a witness, he said.
In the impeachment complaint filed by lawyer Lorenzo Gadon, Sereno is accused of, among other allegations, culpable violation of the Constitution for falsifying Supreme Court resolutions and a temporary restraining order, for delaying action on petitions for retirement benefits, and for failing to truthfully declare her statements of assets, liabilities and net worth.
Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, reacting to the statements of Drilon and Escudero warning that any House move to arrest might trigger a constitutional crisis, chided the two lawmakers for their “impatience.”
“There are some members of the Senate who seem so impatient to participate [in the impeachment proceedings]. Just relax. We will come to that,” Alvarez said in Filipino.
The House leaders’ comments appeared to be a pullback from the remarks of House justice committee chair Reynaldo Umali, who on Sunday raised the possibility of arresting Sereno if she ignored any official summons from the panel.
On Tuesday, Umali reiterated his clarification that he had only been responding to a “hypothetical question” thrown at him by a reporter.
“In fact I mentioned that I can’t even do it (order Sereno’s arrest) myself because this is a collegial body composed of 50 members and we take action on the basis of majority decision, and I can’t even vote except to break a tie,” he said.
He also took exception to the statements of Drilon and Escudero, saying it seemed the two could not wait to intervene in the House proceedings.
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