Defense to block Sereno testimony, to cite confidentiality rule
MANILA, Philippines—Not so fast.
Saying an individual justice is not the Supreme Court, lawyers of Chief Justice Renato Corona raised on Sunday their objections to the plan of the prosecution to present Associate Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno as witness in the impeachment trial of Corona.
Tranquil Salvador III, one of the defense spokespersons, said the high tribunal had already issued a resolution barring any court personnel, including the 15 magistrates, from testifying on issues covered by judicial privilege in the Senate impeachment court.
Citing Rule 10, Section 2, of the high court’s Internal Rules, Salvador said all legal issues “taken up during the (en banc) deliberations are considered confidential.”
“She (Sereno) may volunteer to appear in the witness stand. That’s her prerogative and we will respect that. But she could only testify on matters outside of the judicial privilege,” Salvador told the Philippine Daily Inquirer over the phone.
“But if the matters (to be discussed) are within that privilege, only the Supreme Court can waive that right—not any person, the justice and even the Chief Justice,” he added.
He said should Sereno decide to volunteer certain information pertaining to the tribunal’s issuance of an injunctive order, which could have allowed former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to leave the country in November 2011, her testimony must not include the justices’ discussion on Arroyo’s petition.
Article 7 of the impeachment complaint alleged that Corona betrayed the public trust by issuing a temporary restraining order on the travel ban that Justice Secretary Leila de Lima had issued against Arroyo and her husband, Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo.
Said Salvador: “Even if (Sereno) freely consents to the prosecution’s request for her to take the witness stand, she’s still part of the institution and she has to respect the rules of the institution (she belongs to).”
“The individual justices are not the Supreme Court. It’s the institution. So only the institution can waive it.”
In its February 14 resolution, the high court said it cannot “waive the privileges attendant to the proposed testimony of Clerk of Court Enriqueta E. Vidal and of the other court officials and employees on matters covered by privilege and confidentiality.”
Ramon Esguerra, another defense lawyer, said Sereno – President Aquino’s first appointee to the tribunal – could face several “risks” if she acceded to the House prosecutors’ request.
For one, Esguerra said, the lady judge may face grilling regarding the contents of her own statement of assets, liabilities and net worth.
He said Sereno should also clarify that the opinion she wrote was “not the majority (ruling)” and that there were points raised against her (dissenting opinion)” by Associate Justices Presbitero Velasco and Roberto Abad.
“One of these is that she submitted her opinion one day late,” Esguerra said in a text message, adding that Sereno should also disclose what she discussed with De Lima regarding the case.
“The good justice must be thinking of (appearing as witness). But certain risks are there. She needs the approval of the Supreme Court en banc,” he said.
“Be that as it may, the defense will raise proper objection is she takes the witness stand.”
Asked what could be the basis of their opposition, Esguerra said: “In the absence of a clear case of an exception or the approval of the Supreme Court en banc, violation of the confidentiality of deliberations is well within the scope of judicial privilege.”
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