LAWYERS of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno on Monday filed a motion asking the House Committee on Justice to recognize her constitutionally guaranteed rights to be represented by a legal counsel and to confront the witnesses against her through counsel representing her in the impeachment proceedings.
In a four-page motion, Sereno’s lawyers, led by Alex Poblador, sought confirmation from the committee that persons testifying as witnesses or as “resource persons” against the Chief Justice might be “cross-examined by her counsel on her behalf.”
They also asked that they be allowed to object to improper questions during direct examination of the complainant’s witnesses and be furnished with all the documentary and testimonial evidence in support of the charges against their client.
“The confirmation was sought in light of public pronouncements by some members of this Honorable Committee, and in order to be clarified and assured that the procedure which the Committee would adopt during the hearings would respect the basic rights of the Chief Justice as a respondent in an impeachment proceeding,” the lawyers stated in the motion.
Meanwhile, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez dismissed the allegations against him by the group Filipino Alliance for Transparency and Empowerment as part of a hatchet job to divert public attention from the substance of the accusations raised against Sereno in the impeachment case against her.
Alvarez, in a radio interview, dismissed as baseless FATE’s allegations the House hearings on Sereno’s impeachment could be railroaded.
He said such allegation betrayed the weakness of Sereno’s evidence in her defense.
He pointed out this was the same public relations tactic employed against him and the House of Representatives when they investigated the P6.4-billion shabu smuggling though the Bureau of Customs but eventually the truth came out.
Alvarez also laughed off the claim of FATE that the House was controlling the impeachment hearings because he had an ax to grind against Sereno for allegedly testifying against him in the Philippine International Air Terminals Co. Inc. case.
He noted that all the cases against him related to the Piatco case were all dismissed and that Sereno did not testify against him as FATE alleged.
Justice Commitee chairman Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali was previously quoted by media as saying Sereno herself must cross-examine the witnesses against her, and not her lawyers—a clear violation of her fundamental right to be heard through a legal counsel, the right to confront the witness and the right to due process before a fair and impartial tribunal.
“The right to be heard and be defended by counsel in all stages of a criminal proceeding is a very basic right of an individual, which not even this Honorable Committee, indeed Congress, can take away from a respondent in an impeachment proceeding,” the lawyers said in their Oct. 3 letter addressed to Umali’s committee.
According to Sereno’s lawyers, Section 12(1), Article III of the 1987 Constitution and Rule 115 of the Rules of Criminal Procedure guarantee the right to counsel of every person—including the Chief Justice—not only at the time of his presentation in a trial, but even as early as his investigation for any offense.
They said the “right to be heard” guaranteed under Section 14(2), Article III of the Constitution meant “the right to be assisted by counsel for the purpose of ensuring that an accused is not denied the collateral right to due process.”
“There can be no due process accorded an accused if he is not be given the right to be heard through counsel or assisted by counsel,” they added.
The lawyers also took exception to Umali’s statement that committee members would not allow Sereno’s lawyers to do cross-examination on behalf of the Chief Justice because the rules of the House would not allow it.
They described the statement as alarming, pointing out that there was no provision in the Rules on Impeachment or the House’s own rules that expressly prohibited counsel for the respondent in an impeachment proceeding from conducting cross-examination.
“Indeed, it makes little sense to recognize the right to cross-examine, and limit the exercise of such right to the person of the respondent alone,” the lawyers said in their Oct. 3 letter addressed to the Committee on Justice.
They insisted the “prerogative to decide how to exercise the right to cross-examine, whether in person or through counsel of his or her choice, should be left to the respondent, as law and common sense dictate.”
Alvarez said aside from the allegations against Sereno’s income derived as member of the government’s counsel, the Piatco case had nothing to do with the impeachment case against her.
Among others, Sereno was charged by complainant lawyer Larry Gadon for failing to declare the estimated US$745,000 or P37 million she earned as a private lawyer from the Piatco case in any of her Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth from 2010 until 2016.
Alvarez also pointed out that as Speaker of the House he was duty-bound to comply with the constitutional mandate to refer impeachment cases to the House Committee on Justice.
He pointed out that if he really wanted Sereno impeached, he could muster enough number to get the required 1/3 vote of the House and immediately bring the case to trial at the Senate.
Instead, Alvarez said he had repeatedly emphasized that the House Committee on Justice must conduct a thorough and careful scrutiny of the evidence submitted against Sereno to determine if there was enough basis to warrant her impeachment.
Contrary to FATE’s allegation, Alvarez said, the House was in fact giving Sereno the opportunity to air her side in the impeachment case against her.
Sereno’s lawyers earlier asked the House committee on justice to allow them to cross-examine the witnesses against the Chief Justice on behalf of Sereno. However, Alvarez said it should be Sereno who should conduct the cross examination.
Alvarez said the House committee on justice would resume its hearings on the Sereno impeachment case when Congress resumes session on Nov. 13.
Last Oct. 5, the Justice committee declared that there were sufficient grounds alleged in the complaint to impeach Sereno.
The next committee hearings will focus on whether or not there is probable cause to pursue her impeachment.