Justice committee dispels criticisms against impeachment proceedings

The House committee on justice began its hearing on Monday by first clearing the air in response to criticisms, with its chairman Rep. Reynaldo Umali (2nd District, Oriental Mindoro) stressing that the panel is simply fulfilling its constitutional mandate in relation to determining probable cause in impeachment proceedings.

Umali likened the committee proceedings to investigating prosecutors, as the trial proper that will decide whether Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno should be removed from office will be conducted by the Senate. Umali warned against depriving the Senate of its constitutional mandate to sit as an impeachment court to hear and decide all impeachment cases.

To the complainant and respondent in this impeachment complaint, including their respective lawyers, the Chair strongly enjoins you to refrain from misleading the public on the nature of these impeachment proceedings, the mandate of this committee and the constitutionally guaranteed rights in relation to these proceedings, said Umali.

He further said: It is our duty to society as officers of the court to properly inform everyone in legal and constitutional rights and processes and not to mislead or misdirect the public's attention in order to further our own interest.

Umali also reminded those concerned not to resort to name-calling or dilatory tactics to prolong the committee's proceedings.

Likewise, he enjoined fellow representatives to stick to the factual issues of the case.

The appraisal comes on the heels of statements released by Sereno's lawyer-spokespersons over the weekend. They alleged the committee of turning the investigative proceedings into a dog and pony show.

Last November 22, Sereno's legal counsel asked to be excused from the committee hearing after the justice committee approved the motion of Rep. Alfredo Garbin, Jr. (Party-list, AKO BICOL) to deny the plea of the Chief Justice to be represented by her lawyers and be allowed to cross-examine witnesses through her lawyers.

The criticisms arose after the committee refused to allow Sereno's legal counsel to cross-examine the complainant, Atty. Lorenzo Gadon.

Members of the committee thus approved a motion by Rep. Gwendolyn Garcia (3rd District, Cebu) that a show-cause order be issued to Commission on Human Rights Commissioner Roberto Cadiz and Sereno's lawyers, Joshua Santiago and Aldwin Salumbides, explaining why they should not be cited contempt over their statements. Cadiz previously said the committee hearings are governed by the law of the jungle.

The committee refuted accusations of violating constitutional rights afforded to an accused during trial, stressing that Sereno is not an accused in a criminal case, but a respondent in House investigative proceedings.

Walang karapatang pinagkakait dahil hindi kailanman siya'y tinuturing na akusado ng komite na ito. Bagkus ang Punong Mahistrado ay isang respondent at ang tanging kaparusahan sa impeachment ay ang pagtanggal o removal sa office. Wala po itong kulong, Umali noted. He explained the right to cross-examine does not exist in a preliminary investigation.

It was also pointed out that the House of Representatives is more liberal in terms of cross examinations during impeachment proceedings since cross examination in the committee is not entirely prohibited. Members of the committee can cross-examine the witnesses, and most especially the complainant and the respondent.

In fact, during the last hearing, members from both the majority and minority bloc of this committee were able to ask searching or clarificatory questions to the complainant Atty. Gadon and they were able to elicit responses from the complainant that tend to share more light on the impeachment complaint he filed against the CJ. This just shows that the purpose of cross examination, which is to bring out the truth, is being achieved by this committee through the questions asked by its members, said Umali.

Source: House of Representatives

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