Sereno decries House denial of plea to cross-examine witnesses

MANILA -- The camp of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno on Wednesday called the decision of the House justice committee denying her of her constitutional right to be represented by a counsel and to cross-examine through her lawyers a “sad day for justice”.

With the decision of justice committee, the top magistrate is looking forward to defend herself before the Senate.

The justice committee voted 30-4 to deny Sereno’s motion seeking recognition of her right to counsel and cross-examination.

The position papers submitted by opposition lawmakers supporting Sereno’s motion were likewise denied by majority members of the committee.

"The committee decision to prohibit the lawyers of the Chief Justice from attending the hearing is tantamount to barring CJ Sereno herself, and belies their claim of an open and democratic process that honors the right to a fair trial," Sereno camp said in a statement.

"It is apparent that the pursuit of truth has been put aside in favor of biased political interest," Sereno lawyers alleged.

Lawyer Josa Deinla, one of the spokespersons of Sereno, argued that while the House has the ‘exclusive power to initiate all cases of impeachment’ it could conduct the impeachment process only in accordance with the standards imposed in other provisions in the Constitution - including the fundamental rights of the respondent.

“This is a sad day for justice in this country that the Chief Justice, who has fought steadfastly to uphold the Constitution and the right of the citizens, has now been denied her own constitutional rights,” said Deinla.

Despite the setback from the House, Deinla said the Chief Justice remained optimistic that she would have her day in court.

“The Chief Justice is eager to defend herself consistent with her rights and looks forward to her trial before the Senate, where she is hopeful her rights will be fully respected,” she said.

Deinla said the majority of the committee disregarded her fundamental rights as a respondent in an impeachment proceeding.

“While it is the House which under the Constitution, has the ‘exclusive power to initiate all cases of impeachment’ it can conduct the impeachment process only in accordance with the standards imposed in other provisions in the Constitution including the fundamental rights of the respondent,” according to Sereno's spokesperson.

Deila said the committee erred in denying the Chief Justice of her right to be represented by counsel by invoking Section 13(2) of the House Rules of Procedure Governing Inquiries in Aid of Legislation.

Such particular rule provides that “the participation of counsel for the witness during the hearing and while the witness is testifying shall be limited to advising on the legal rights of the said witness.”

“It is difficult to understand how this rule can defeat the rights of the Chief Justice to counsel when this right is enshrined not only in the very Rules or Procedure on Impeachment but in the Constitution itself that is read into such rules,” Deinla pointed out.

Sereno's camp also cited the disclosure of complainant lawyer Lorenzo Gadon during the Wednesday hearing that his source of information on the Supreme Court internal memorandum is no other than Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo-De Castro, who allegedly relayed the information to Manila Times reporter Jomar Canlas.

"If indeed true, it reveals that Senior Justice De Castro clearly violated the Internal Rules of the Supreme Court. The Internal Rules of the Supreme Court prominently safeguards the confidentiality of Supreme Court sessions and its internal documents," Deinla explained.

"Specifically, the Supreme Court sessions are executive in character, with only the Members of the Supreme Court present. The Supreme Court deliberations are confidential and shall not be disclosed to outside parties, except if authorized by the Supreme Court," she pointed out.

De Castro in a brief statement issued by the SC public information office denied Gadon's claim.

“I have never released to Jomar Canlas any information, report, or document regarding the work of the Court," she stressed in a statement.

Deinla said the right to counsel is accorded to every person not only at the time of his presentation in a trial, but even as early as his investigation for any offense.

As to the right to cross-examination, Deinla said only the Chief Justice has the prerogative to choose how to exercise such right -- in person or through counsel of her choice.

“The right to cross-examine through counsel is so fundamental, that the option to dispense with the assistance of counsel is entirely the prerogative of the respondent,” the lawyer said.

According to Deinla, the Chief Justice actually could not understand why her right to cross-examination through counsel was even subject to debate.

“Cross-examination through counsel is not only part of due process, it will even aid the Committee in finding out the truth about the allegations against the Chief Justice,” she explained. (PNA)

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