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House panel threatens to cite in contempt, arrest CJ; 2 SC justices allowed to testify

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(Photo from Philippine Daily Inquirer)


QUEZON CITY — The chairman of the House of Representatives committee on justice has warned Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno that the panel has the power to order her arrest if she would ignore a subpoena that it intends to issue to compel her to attend the impeachment complaint filed against her by lawyer Larry Gadon.

“Of course, if we issue a subpoena, it has coercive power and if she (Sereno) doesn’t comply, we will be forced to issue a warrant (of arrest after citing her in contempt),” said Rep. Reynaldo Umali (PDP-Laban, Oriental Mindoro), the committee chairman.


This developed as the Supreme Court (SC) allowed Tuesday some Associate Justices and employes to appear before the House justice committee to testify in the impeachment proceedings against Sereno.


Also on Tuesday, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II appeared before the House justice committee and testified in the impeachment proceedings against the Chief Justice.


SC spokesman Theodore Te, in a briefing, announced the directive was issued following Tuesday’s regular en banc session of the magistrates.


The SC unanimously voted to allow the magistrates and employees to appear in connection with the invitation of the House justice committee on the matter.


Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio presided over the en banc deliberations after Sereno decided to inhibit being the one involved on the matter.


Two magistrates namely Associate Justices Teresita Leonardo-De Castro and Noel Tijam have manifested that they want to accept the invitation from the House justice committee to appear in the hearing and were allowed as scuh.


“Those who are invited to testify on administrative matters may do so if they wish. The Court is not requiring them but the Court is granting them clearance if they so wish to appear and testify on administrative matters,” Te told reporters during the press briefing held at Supreme Court.


Aside from De Castro and Tijam, also invited by the House justice committee to appear during the impeachment hearing against Sereno were Te, retired SC Justice Arturo Brion, Court Administrator Jose Midas Marquez, SC en banc Clerk of Court Felipa Anama and Deputy Clerk of Court Lani Papa.

The justice panel last week barred Sereno’s lawyers from representing her after she snubbed the hearing on the ground that the complaint has yet to reach the Senate for trial.

Umali warned Sereno that the panel can use the coercive power of the committee under the Constitution, saying she cannot invoke the separation of powers between the Legislative and Judiciary because she has the constitutional duty to face the impeachment complaint.

Umali, a lawyer, explained his committee does not need even need the approval of Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez in issuing an arrest warrant because it is part of the panel’s exclusive constitutional mandate to initiate impeachment cases.


“So this is a constitutional power to pursue a constitutional mandate. The separation of powers as co-equal branch may not be invoked in this particular instance,” he said. “If there are issues that would really require her to testify, we will issue a subpoena.”

It was the first time the justice committee has threatened a chief magistrate with arrest for refusing to attend its impeachment proceedings and personally answer the allegations.

Umali said the committee is unlikely to give Sereno three chances by issuing three invitations since it only has 60 session days to dispose of the complaint.

“In our legislative work, that can be applied since that’s not time-bound but in this particular case, especially since it involves 27 allegations and I can’t say how many witnesses are involved, we have to do it quickly,” he said.


Senate Minority Leader Frank Drilon, a former justice secretary, however, insisted a House Committee cannot compel the Chief Justice to attend the impeachment hearing against her.


Drilon warned of a serious constitutional crisis if the House Committee on Justice proceeds with its plan to issue an arrest order to compel Sereno to show up.


"The House Committee on Justice cannot force Sereno to attend and testify in an impeachment hearing against her. It cannot be done without triggering a constitutional crisis," Drilon said in a press statement.


“There is no basis and will provoke a needless constitutional crisis," he added.


He, meanwhile, urged committee chair Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali to exercise “extreme caution” in using the coercive powers of Congress to issue a subpoena against Sereno.


The senator further explained that the power of the House to issue a subpoena, motu prioprio, cannot be used during the investigation of an impeachment complaint.

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