WATCH | Sereno wants lawyers to question impeachment witnesses but Umali says only CJ can cross-examine

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File photo of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno from Philstar

MANILA, Philippines — (UPDATE – 2:08 p.m.) Ahead of the formal hearing of the impeachment complaint against her, Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno has asked the House of Representatives’ justice committee to allow her, through her lawyers, to confront and cross-examine the witnesses against her.

In a letter to Oriental Mindoro Representative Reynaldo Umali, the committee chairmn, Sereno’s lawyers also reiterated their contention that the complaint filed by lawyer Lorenzo “Larry” Gadon should be dismissed for lack of basis.

READ THE LETTER FROM SERENO’S LAWYERS:

Gadon, filing a reply to Sereno’s comment, said Serreno had told “more lies and more lies” as he vowed to present an expert on Statements of Assets Liabilities and Net worth during the hearings to prove his claims about the Chief Justice’s alleged undeclared assets.

“I’d be happy to present my witnesses para sa House pa lang mapatunayan na (so we can prove the charges at the House),” he said.

In an interview, Umali said only Sereno, not her lawyers, would be allowed to speak during the proceedings.

“We humbly submit that under the House rules, persons who would testify during the hearing would not be considered mere resource persons who would be questioned solely by committee members.  Those persons would be full-fledged witnesses, who would be examined by a proponent, and cross-examined by an opponent,” according to the letter signed by Sereno’s lawyers Alexander Poblador, Dino Tamayo and Anzen Dy.

Sereno’s lawyers also sought the following:

  • Confirmation from the House panel of the lawyers’ understanding of the nature of the hearing that may be conducted under Section 6 of the House Rules, and all persons testifying as witnesses or as resource persons against the Chief Justice may be cross-examined by her counsel on her behalf
  • Confirmation of the right of the Chief Justice through her counsel to object to improper questions during direct examination of the witnesses
  • A copy of the evidence, testimonial, documentary or object, which has been or may be submitted to the committee in support of the charges against the Chief Justice

In a separate statement, one of Sereno’s spokesmen for the impeachment, lawyer Carlo Cruz, claimed “alarming indications that she will be denied the right to cross-examine those that will bear witness against her.”

“All the Chief Justice asks of Congress —  a co-equal branch of government —  is that the latter be fair and follow their own rules as the impeachment proceedings unfold.  These rules clearly state the Chief Justice’s right to cross-examine any witness that may be put on the stand.  She asserts this right,” he said.

Cruz said that “if Congress remains aligned with the objective of pursuing the truth and upholding due process and fairness, then it is likewise in their interest to uphold the Chief Justice and her legal team’s right to cross examination.”

“After all, cross examination is a tool to ferret out the truth and to provide the committee with a complete picture of the material facts, and not just the side of the complainant.  It is the fair, legal and right thing to do,” he added.

When asked if Sereno would show up at the hearing, Dy said she would be represented by her legal team.

But Umali said Sereno’s lawyers would not be allowed to “speak directly to do the cross examination” claiming “that is not allowed by the Rules of the House.”

“Only the resource person, in this particular case, the respondent (Sereno), in my own interpretation of our own rules, may be allowed to do that,” he said.

Kung meron silang (If they have) cross-examination questions, they can address the chair and I will ask the witnesses,” he added.

“Anyway, she is a seasoned Justice, we may allow her to conduct cross-examination. In the same manner that we will allow Atty. Gadon, who is also a seasoned lawyer, to conduct his cross examination,” Umali said.

The Rules of the House in the 17th Congress do not explicitly bar lawyers from talking during inquiries, although it is a practice during hearings that only the resource persons are given the opportunity to speak.

Umali said he would leave the matter to the members of the committee if a majority decision is needed.

The impeachment complaint against Sereno, which accuses her of culpable violation of the Constitution, betrayal of public trust, corrupt and other high crimes, was endorsed by 25 House members.

After a hearing on September 13, the justice committee found the complaint sufficient in form and substance and required Sereno to file a reply, which she submitted on Monday, September 25.

Gadon will be allowed to file an answer, to which Sereno may again file a rejoinder, before the committee conducts another hearing, this time to find if there is sufficient ground to impeach the Chief Justice.

Section 6 of the House’s rules of impeachment provides:

“If it finds that sufficient grounds for impeachment do not exist, the Committee shall dismiss the complaint and submit the report required hereunder. If the Committee finds that sufficient grounds for impeachment exist, the Committee shall conduct a hearing.

“The Committee, through the Chairperson, may limit the period of examination and cross-examination. The Committee shall have the power to issue compulsory processes for the attendance of witnesses and the production of documents and other related evidence.

“After the submission of evidence, the Committee may require the submission of memoranda, after which the matter shall be submitted for resolution.”

Albay Representative Edcel Lagman, in a statement, supported Sereno’s request to be heard through counsel.

“While an impeachment proceeding is a political process, it is imbued with a judicial nature akin to a criminal prosecution,” he said.

Lagman cited Section 6 of Rule III of the impeachment rules, which provides that the justice committee, “through the Chairperson may limit the period of examination and cross-examination.”

“This rule indubitably grants the respondent the right of cross-examination and the only limitation is the authority of the Chairperson to reasonably delimit the period of such cross-examination, but not to deny the same,” he said.

Click and watch the video report below: