Prosecutors, senator want justice to testify

Rappler.com
The prosecution will ask the Senate's permission to 'invite' SC Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno to appear before the impeachment court

MANILA, Philippines – Will Supreme Court Associate Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno testify against Chief Justice Renato Corona?

If the prosecution would have their way, they prefer her to testify – either in person or through a written response to questions.

Prosecutor Rep. Neri Colmenares told the impeachment court on Thursday, February 23, that the prosecution panel will ask the senator-judges’ permission to invite Sereno to appear before the impeachment court next week.



Colmenares said they will file a motion on this on Monday, February 27.

Prior to Colmenares’s statement, however, Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV already proposed that the court issue “written interrogatories” to Sereno, or a set of questions in relation to the allegations against Corona in Article 7 of the impeachment complaint.

Final decision

The prosecution has apparently not made a final decision on whether to invite Sereno or to just follow Trillanes’ tack.

Prosecutor Rep. Joseph Emilio Abaya told Rappler that they were inclined to just request for written interrogatories, similar to what Trillanes had proposed.

But in an interview after the trial, Colmenares told Rappler that while he appreciated Trillanes’s call, “we will try” to invite the justice so Filipinos could hear it straight from her.

It all depends on the Senate, conceded Colmenares.

The prosecution intends to wrap up Aricle 7 by next week. After that, Colmenares told Rappler they will decide on whether to drop the remaining 5 articles in the complaint and rest their case.

Based on this scenario, Sereno’s testimony would be crucial for a Corona conviction in Article 7.

The Senate has already decided against issuing subpoenas to the SC justices.

On February 14, the High Court also issued a resolution barring SC justices and employees from testifying before the impeachment court on matters related to its decisions, among others.

Assuming Sereno accepts the invitation, she would still have to get a waiver from the Court, according to a resolution issued last week by the High Tribunal.

It was Sereno who, in November and December 2011, wrote 2 strongly-worded opinions against the majority decision allowing former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to seek medical treatment abroad.

The other SC justice who dissented is Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, an appointee of Mrs Arroyo (Sereno was appointed by President Benigno Aquino III.)

Incidentally, both of them also dissented in the February 14 majority decision barring justices from testifying against Corona. They said judicial privilege has its limits and should be superceded by the higher demands of public accountability.

Divided court

Appearing at the witness stand for the second time on Thursday, February 23, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima again cited Sereno’s dissenting opinion as basis for her assertion that Corona exerted undue influence to push for the decision favorable to Mrs Arroyo.

Sereno pointed out that majority of the justices agreed, after they had issued the temporary restraining order that favored Arroyo, that the latter had not complied with all the conditions of the order. This pertained to her failure to formally appoint a counsel to receive legal notices on her behalf.

Because she failed to comply, it was understood that the TRO would not take effect, Sereno said in her dissent, citing a consensus among majority of the justices.

Sereno, however, said Corona, using his powers as chief justice, manuevered to have his own version issued in the form an SC resolution, which eventually the majority of the justices agreed to.

Such powers were elaborated on by De Lima, upon questioning by Sen. Franklin Drilon.

De Lima said that among the powers of a chief justice are the powers to set the agenda of the en banc, to exclude or include any topic for discussion, to hold a special raffle of cases, to direct the clerk of court to write the final resolution of the Court, and to order the clerk of court to base such resolution on his handwritten notes during deliberations.

“We need to remember these functions and powers of the chief justice,” De Lima said in Filipino, “in light of the irregularities cited by Justice Sereno in her dissent.” – Rappler.com

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