A THREAT to arrest Chief Justice Lourdes Sereno if she would refuse to attend the ongoing impeachment hearing at the House of Representatives may lead to a constitutional crisis, two senators warned on Monday, as they advised their counterparts in the House to exercise “extreme caution” when they subpoena the Chief Justice.
Sen. Franklin Drilon said the power of Congress to issue a subpoena and order the detention of a witness who refused to obey the subpoena was available only in investigations in aid of legislation.
“It is not available in an impeachment proceeding. In effect, a subpoena will compel Sereno in an impeachment complaint to testify against herself,” the Senate minority leader said in response to a threat by Rep. Reynaldo Umali, chairman of the House justice committee, to have Sereno arrested if she would not attend the ongoing impeachment hearings.
“Therefore, I urge Congressman Umali to exercise extreme caution in using the coercive powers of Congress to issue a subpoena against Sereno as there is no basis and will provoke a needless constitutional crisis,” Drilon said.
Sen. Francis Escudero shared Drilon’s view. “It may result in a constitutional crisis if the Chief Justice refuses to attend,” he said.
“But if I remember correctly, the attendance/participation of the respondent in an impeachment case, or in any case for that matter, cannot be compelled to give evidence against himself/herself even if he/she attends,” Escudero said.
In an interview on Super Radyo dzBB on Sunday morning, Umali said that if there were any matters that would need to be confirmed, the Committee may be forced to issue a subpoena against Sereno.
If Sereno still would not appear despite the subpoena a warrant of arrest may be filed against her, said Umali.
“Ang first option is dahil hindi siya humarap eh di kung ano man yung ebidensyang naihain na hindi na-controvert o hindi nakontra ay siyang mananatili at magiging basehan ng komite,” Umali said.
(Our first option is since Sereno is not facing the Committee, whatever evidence filed against her that are not controverted will be maintained and will be the basis of the Committee.)
“On the other hand, pag meron talagang mga bagay na dapat niyang testiguhan ay marahil ay mag-issue ang komite ng ika nga ay subpoena at siyempre, pag subpoena, coercive powers yan at hindi po sinunod ay maoobliga tayong mag-issue ng warrant,” Umali said.
(On the other hand, if there are really things that need to be clarified by her, the Committee will be forced to issue a subpoena and of course, subpoenas have coercive powers and if she does not follow it then we will be obliged to issue a warrant.)
In a statement on Monday, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman said that Sereno, as respondent, has the constitutional right to appear through counsel and have her lawyers cross-examine on her behalf and to not personally appear at all.
“It is for the complainant Gadon to prove the same considering that Gadon has not even proved anything and his charges are utterly unfounded and based on hearsay,” Lagman said, referring to lawyer Larry Gadon who filed the impeachment complaint against Sereno.
Lagman said that the accusations have been answered by Sereno and that her personal appearance would not serve any legal purpose.
Lagman added that the projected issuance of a warrant of arrest against the Chief Justice has no legal anchorage, saying that it is an “empty and useless threat bordering on coercion and arbitrariness”.
The counsel of Sereno submitted before the Committee two letters, a motion and a Special Power of Attorney, to maintain the Chief Justice’s right to counsel and right to cross-examination.
Last Wednesday, Sereno did not appear before the Committee and in her place, her counsel attended.
A motion raised denied the participation of the counsel of Sereno, which prompted the lawyers to leave the House.
A separate motion raised by Deputy Speaker and Zamboanga Sibugay Rep. Gwendolyn Garcia denied the participation of non-members of the Committee to cross-examine the witnesses and the complainant.
As of posting time, Sereno remains absent at the Committee hearing and was still represented by her counsel. RALPH EDWIN U. VILLANUEVA