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MANILA, Philippines - The Impeachment Court rejected the prosecution's motion to subpoena four associate justices of the Supreme Court to testify on Article of Impeachment 3 in the ongoing trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona.
THe senator-judges voted to reject the request for subpoena on the ground it would violate the confidentiality of the proceedings of court sessions.
In a resolution read toward the end of Wednesday’s trial, the majority of the senator-judges said that the court cannot summon the justices because it would transgress “the basic principles of separation of powers” and would violate the internal rules of the high court.
At least four members of the high court have been asked to be subpoenaed as witnesses for Article 3, regarding the court’s alleged flip-flopping in the case of FASAP vs Philippine Airlines. They are Associate Justices Martin Villarama, Maria Lourdes Sereno, Bienvenido Reyes and Presbitero Velasco Jr.
The vote to reject the request for issuance of subpoenas effectively defuses another potential point of conflict between the SC and the Senate sitting as an impeachment court---the other one being on the matter of forcing the disclosure of Corona’s foreign currency bank accounts, which remains unresolved.
The SC had earlier scheduled a special en banc session on Thursday, to take up the matter of how the justices should respond to calls to testify in the impeachment court.
The decision of the senator-judges, read aloud by the clerk of court of the impeachment court, said: “For this Court to issue subpoena in order to require the members of the Supreme Court to testify on their deliberations which are confidential according to its rules is to make this court omniscient over a co-equal department which will run afoul of the tripartite system of government and thereby dilute the well-entrenched constitutional principles of separation of powers.”
Senator-judges Aquilino Pimentel III, Teofisto Guingona III, Francis Pangilinan and Alan Peter Cayetano concurred with the decision, but took exception to the statement that the impeachment court is co-equal with the Supreme Court. Rule 10 of The Internal Rules of the Supreme Court provides for the absolute confidentiality of its deliberations.
It reads: “Sec. 2. Confidentiality of court sessions. – Court sessions are executive in character, with only the Members of the Court present. Court deliberations are confidential and shall not be disclosed to outside parties, except as may be provided herein or as authorized by the Court.
“The Chief Justice or the Division Chairperson shall record the action taken in each case for transmittal to the Clerk of Court or Division Clerk of Court after each session. The notes of the Chief Justice and the Division Chairperson, which the Clerk of Court and the Division Clerks of Court must treat with strict confidentiality, shall be the bases of the minutes of the sessions.”