Sereno camp insists on CJ’s right to counsel

MANILA -- The camp of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno on Friday insisted anew that she has the right to have counsel and to cross-examine the witness during the impeachment proceedings against her before the Congress.

Sereno is facing impeachment complaint filed by lawyer Larry Gadon.

Gadon reportedly said that Sereno is the best person to conduct the direct and cross-examination during the impeachment hearing.

Sereno spokesperson lawyer Jojo Lacanilao defended the Chief Justice saying she has the right to counsel.

Atty. Lorenzo Gadon should review his law. Any impeachment proceeding, while political in character, does not take away the constitutional rights of the respondent. This political process is imbued with judicial character akin to a criminal prosecution, said Lacanilao.

This means that the respondent, in this case of Chief Justice Sereno, should be accorded the right to counsel and the right to cross-examine the complainant and the witnesses through her lawyers -- the same rights that are guaranteed to every citizen of this country to ensure due process. This is what our Constitution clearly says, he added.

If Sereno is denied the right to counsel and the right to cross-examine the complainant and the witnesses through her lawyers, it would be a mockery of the law and the Constitution.

It would be a pathetic farce if these constitutional rights are denied by Congress, whose members have sworn to uphold and defend the Constitution, added Lacanilao.

Sereno's camp recently filed a motion asking the committee to recognize her constitutionally guaranteed rights to be represented by a legal counsel and be allowed to object to questions during the direct examination of the witnesses and be furnished with documentary and testimonial evidence.

Sereno earlier decried the violation of her constitutional rights when the House committee rejected the plea of her lawyers to cross-examine witnesses.

Meanwhile, one of the spokespersons of Sereno, lawyer Josa Deinla said that they are still discussing on whether the Chief Justice will attend the impeachment hearing on November 22.

The legal team is still discussing the invitation, Deinla said in a text message,

Early last month, Deinla said that the Chief Justice would not be attending any of the hearings to be conducted by the House of Representatives.

Please remember, as the chief magistrate of the Supreme Court she's wearing so many hats. She has to run six offices. These tasks exact or demand her full attention. Besides, she does not want to be distracted from her duties as the Chief Justice, Deinla was then quoted as saying.

It was also reported that some of her lawyers are not inclined to recommend that she be present at the hearing because some committee members might humiliate her.

They allegedly preferred that members of Sereno's legal team be the one to cross-examine the witnesses.

When asked if Sereno has changed her mind, Deinla said, I wouldn't know as I'm not privy to confidential communications with lawyers. All I know is that every incident in relation to the impeachment, including this invitation from the House Committee, is being taken by Chief Justice Meilou under advisement.

House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, however, said Sereno should personally appear before the committee so she can be given the opportunity to cross-examine the witnesses in the impeachment case filed by Gadon against her.

Deinla disagreed with Alvarez's view, saying Sereno has the right to cross-examine the witnesses against her through her lawyers as part of due process of law enshrined in the Constitution.

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.

Gadon also accused Sereno of extravagant spending of judicial funds by purchasing a PHP5-million Toyota Land Cruiser and traveling on first-class flights among the grounds.

He also cited as basis Sereno's order in 2012 to reopen a regional constitutional administrative office in Cebu without the collegial approval of the Court, which was later on revoked by the SC.

Gadon's complaint cited the chief justice's alleged inactions on the applications for survivorship benefits of spouses of justices and judges and also on the filling of vacancies in key posts in the judiciary allegedly to wait for members of her staff to qualify.

Source: Philippine News Agency