February 19, 2018, 7:40 pm
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Sereno to snub impeach hearing

SPEAKER Pantaleon Alvarez yesterday said the House committee on justice will allow the lawyers of Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno to cross examine the witnesses that will be presented in the impeachment case against her if she will attend today’s hearing on the determination of probable cause.

Alvarez said Sereno’s right to counsel will be respected if she will honor the committee’s invitation to personally appear.

“The stand of the House is for CJ Sereno to attend. Now, if she doesn’t want to speak, we will allow her lawyers to speak,” he told a television interview with economist Winnie Monsod and host Rhea Santos.

Asked if he can assure the Chief Magistrate that her lawyers will be allowed to cross examine the witnesses that complainant Larry Gadon will present, Alvarez said: “Everything will be allowed so long as she will attend.”

Earlier yesterday, Sereno’s camp said she will not attend the hearing. She executed a Special Power of Attorney (SPA) dated November 20, 2017 that was submitted to the justice panel yeterrday authorizing her team of lawyers to attend the hearing.

Sereno named the following lawyers as members of her legal defense – Alexander Poblador, Dino Vivencio A.A. Tamayo, Anzen P. Dy, Justin Christopher C. Mendoza, Carla S. Pingul, Sandra Mae T. Magalang, Jayson C. Aguilar, Oswald P. Imbat, Enrico Edmundo D. Castelo II, Charles Richard C. Avila, Jr. and/or Patricia P. Geraldez.

“(They are) my attorneys-in-fact to act for and in my name and stead and to exercise my rights and to otherwise protect my interests in all stages of the impeachment proceeding before the committee on justice,” she said in her SPA.

“Exercising my constitutional rights, including my right to be heard, my right to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation/s against me, my right to object to questions, my right to be furnished with evidence, my right against self-incrimination, my right against unlawful arrest and unreasonable searches and seizures, and my right to privacy,” Sereno added.

Umali, however, rejected the SPA, saying her lawyers “cannot defend the Chief Justice.”

“It (SPA) has no bearing at all because what is material here is her presence for her to controvert the evidence to be presented by the complainant and the witnesses,” Umali said.

Umali said Sereno’s lawyers will only be allowed to attend the hearing but will not be allowed to talk since the rules do not allow it.

“They (Sereno’s lawyers) can come, but they cannot speak because the rules do not permit such arrangement,” Umali said.

In an interview with dzMM Monday night, Alvarez called Sereno “crazy” for insisting that she has the right not to attend the proceedings and be represented by her lawyers.

“She’s crazy. She’s acting as if she’s not a lawyer. She knows this is an impeachment case and she’s the one being impeached and not her lawyers. So this is a personal matter, she has to face us and explain. She should defend herself, we’re according her the right to due process,” he said.

Alvarez said Sereno’s right to counsel can be granted if she will not be able to carry out the cross examination herself “but she has to be here.”

Umali earlier warned Sereno that she would be waiving her rights to controvert the allegations against her if she will not attend the hearings.

He even warned of a constitutional crisis if Sereno will bring the matter to the Supreme Court to stop the proceedings on the ground that her constitutional right is being violated.

Alvarez, however, dismissed the possibility, saying the Constitution clearly states that the House has the exclusive jurisdiction over impeachment proceedings.

“My advice is for the (Sereno) lawyers to engage in MCLE (Mandatory Continuing Legal Education) first because it’s clear in the Constitution that the House of Representatives has the sole power to hear and to accept these impeachment cases,” she said.

Alvarez is confident that majority of the justices of the Supreme Court will uphold the letter of the Constitution which vests on Congress the power to impeach erring officials from the Executive Department and the Judiciary.

“We will not reach that point (constitutional crisis) because I’m confident that majority of the Supreme Court justices understand their duties. We’ll not reach that point because the letters of the Constitution are clear,” he said.

In his impeachment complaint, Gadon cited 27 acts where Sereno allegedly betrayed public trust, committed corruption, and other high crimes, particularly the untruthful declaration of her wealth in her Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) – the same ground that allies of former president Benigno Aquino III used to oust then Chief Justice Renato Corona in 2012.

Sereno’s decision not to attend the hearing comes on the heels of her claim that she believes President Duterte and Alvarez may have a hand in the impeachment case against her. 

One of Sereno’s spokespersons, Atty. Josa Deinla, said the Chief Justice does not need to have the solons hear her side as she had already aired her “side” under oath in the verified answer and verified rejoinder she had filed earlier.

“She is only exercising her right to counsel. She has sincere desire to continue fulfilling faithfully her immense tasks and responsibilities as the chief magistrate of this country,” said Deinla. – With Gerard Naval
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