House rejects Sereno plea to cross-examine witnesses thru counsel

MANILA � The House of Representatives' justice committee on Wednesday denied the motion of Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno to allow her lawyers to cross-examine witnesses during the impeachment proceedings.

Voting 30-4, the panel approved the motion of Ako-Bicol Partylist Rep. Alfredo Garbin to deny Sereno's request to cross-examine witnesses through her legal counsel.

Majority leader Rodolfo FariAas said the cross-examination of Sereno's lawyers would only be allowed during the impeachment trial.

"I am surprised that the chief justice and her lawyers even filed this motion, asking that they be given the right to cross-examine the complainants," FariAas said, arguing that the determination of probable cause is akin to a preliminary investigation.

FariAas cited a Supreme Court decision saying that in a preliminary investigation, the complainant has no right to cross-examine witnesses.

He was referring to the case of former senator Jinggoy Estrada against the Ombudsman, wherein the court ruled that "it is a fundamental principle that the accused in a preliminary investigation has no right to cross-examine the witnesses which the complainant may present".

FariAas argued that even former chief justice Renato Corona was barred from cross-examination until his case reached the impeachment court.

The panel also disallowed non-members to participate in the impeachment proceedings.

Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman earlier filed a position paper insisting that non-members be allowed to participate in the committee deliberations.

FariAas stressed that non-members may attend but cannot participate in the deliberations.

"Members have the right to attend all committee hearings and even participate in certain committee hearings. But this is a constitutional committee. We are not holding ordinary meetings here," FariAas said.

"The Constitution has tasked the committee on justice as the only committee to hear the impeachment cases... You are free to attend. We are 293. If each member is allowed to participate, we will never finish here," he added.

The House justice panel is currently deliberating whether there is probable cause in the impeachment complaint filed by the complainant, Atty. Larry Gadon.

The panel earlier found that the complaint lodged against the chief magistrate is sufficient in form, substance, and grounds.

Gadon's complaint contains four grounds for impeachment -- culpable violation of the Constitution, corruption, other high crimes, and betrayal of public trust.

It also alleged 27 acts constituting the offenses charged.

Source: Philippine News Agency