Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno must personally respond to the impeachment complaint against her at the House of Representatives, because “hypothetically,” she could be issued a subpoena and arrested if she did not comply.
Rep. Reynaldo Umali of Oriental Mindoro, the House justice committee chairman, made the warning, which he later downplayed as only “hypothetical.”
“That’s why we call those who face us ‘respondents.’ They have to respond,” Umali said.
“I firmly believe that the extraordinary power given to the Committee on Justice as an impeachment committee is a constitutional mandate that ought to be followed by everyone,” he added.
Once again, Sereno did not attend the Monday’s hearing and sent her counsel instead.
Earlier, Associate Justices Teresita Leonardo-de Castro and Noel Tijam, Court Administrator Jose Midas Marquez, retired associate justice and newly minted San Sebastian College-Recoletos law dean Arturo Brion, Assistant Court Administrator and Chief of the Public Information Office Theodore Te and Charlotte Labayani, the chief judicial staff officer of the Employees Welfare and Benefits Division at the Supreme Court of the Philippines, submitted letters to Umali, stating that they would not attend the hearing on Monday as they needed to seek the approval from the Supreme Court en banc (full court) during its session on Tuesday, November 28.
Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) Executive Officer Annaliza Ty-Capacite also declined to appear before the House committee.
Ty-Capacite was invited to speak about the allegation of lawyer Lorenzo Gadon, the impeachment complainant, that Sereno manipulated the selection process for court appointees to bar the appointment of then solicitor general Francis Jardeleza.
“[Ty-Capacite] would like to respectfully inform that she is not in a position to answer the questions relating to the aforementioned allegation in the impeachment complaint for the reason that she was not present in any of the meetings wherein the JBC discussed the candidacy of then-Solicitor General, now Supreme Court Associate Justice Francis Jardeleza,” the letter read.
Ty-Capacite also said that she could not testify on the minutes of the said meetings since she was not the one who prepared the minutes nor was she the custodian or repository of the said documents.
A threat to arrest Chief Justice Sereno if she refused 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” in issuing a subpoena to the chief justice.
Sen. Franklin Drilon said the power of Congress to issue a subpoena and order the detention of a witness 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.
“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.
Ramon Casiple, executive director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reforms, noted that only the Senate, which would act as an impeachment court, had the authority to summon the chief justice.
“In a criminal case it is the court that orders the arrest, and in an impeachment case the Senate is the court,” Casiple explained.
In a statement on Monday, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman said that Sereno, as respondent, had the constitutional right to appear through counsel and have her lawyers cross-examine witnesses 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.
Lagman said the accusations had been answered by Sereno and that her personal appearance would not serve any legal purpose.
He added that the issuance of a warrant of arrest against the chief justice had no legal anchorage, describing it as an “empty and useless threat bordering on coercion and arbitrariness.”
The counsels of Sereno had submitted before the House 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 week, Sereno did not appear before the committee and in her place, her counsels attended.
But the committee denied the participation of the counsel of Sereno, which prompted the lawyers to leave the House.
Times reporter stands by story
The Manila Times Senior Reporter Jomar Canlas testified before the House committee and stood by his story that alleged that Sereno tampered with a temporary restraining order in a dispute between the Senior Citizens’ party-list and the Commission on Elections.
Canlas also denied that he told Gadon that Justice de Castro was the source of his story, which became the basis of Gadon’s impeachment complaint against Sereno.
“I have never revealed to anyone my sources. I deny de Castro was my source,” Canlas said.
Asked about Canlas’ denial, Gadon said: “I cannot remember now if it was Canlas who intimated it to me. He may have intimated it to me,” Gadon said.
Gadon said that because there were a lot of people giving him information on the issue, he could not remember who had exactly divulged the information to him.
Gadon said, however, that this did not change the fact that there was an article on the temporary restraining order, and that Associate Justice de Castro would testify on its contents.
Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre 2nd said he would appear before the Committee on Justice at the resumption of its impeachment hearings.
Aguirre said on Monday he had received an invitation from the committee to testify on allegations that the chief justice caused the delay of his request for the transfer of the cases against the Maute terror group to the Department of Justice.
Also on Monday, the Committee on Justice issued show-cause orders against two lawyers of Sereno and an associate commissioner of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR).
Lawyers Joshua Santiago and Aldwin Salumbides and Associate Commissioner Roberto Cadiz were given 72 hours to explain why they should not be cited in contempt for their statements that put the House panel in a bad light.
Over the weekend, Santiago and Salumbides said in a forum that the hearing was a “dog and pony show.”
Cadiz said the impeachment proceedings were governed by the “law of the jungle.”
“If I may just enjoin the lawyers, please respect this impeachment committee lest we will be forced to again use the coercive powers of the court, of this impeachment committee, and/or other powers that are vested in the House of Representatives,” said Umali, the committee chairman.
WITH BERNADETTE E. TAMAYO, JEFFERSON ANTIPORDA AND WILLIAM B. DEPASUPIL