Alvarez: Sereno lawyers can't attend hearing if she isn't there

MANILA, Philippines – House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez on Monday, November 20, said he would prohibit Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno's lawyers from attending the House justice committee's next hearing if Sereno herself fails to show up.

"Now, her lawyers, I will not let them in the committee hearing. They have no business there. They're not the ones being impeached. Why would they be there? Unless the subject of the impeachment is there, then the lawyers can be there too," said Alvarez in a DZRH interview.

Alvarez was asked about Sereno's apparent refusal to attend the hearing set for Wednesday, November 22, during which the House justice committee is set to tackle if there is probable cause to pursue the complaint filed by lawyer Larry Gadon.

Sereno's camp has asked the committee to allow her lawyers to cross-examine Gadon's witnesses, who may be presented during the hearing.

But Alvarez and committee chairman Oriental Mindoro 2nd District Representative Reynaldo Umali believe only Sereno herself can conduct the cross-examination. The committee, composed of ranking House officials and regular members, will have to vote on Sereno's request.

Should it be rejected, the Chief Justice's camp had said they would elevate the appeal to the Supreme Court (SC). Alvarez criticized Sereno's lawyers over this pronouncement.

"I'm not sure if Sereno's lawyers read books or not. They already know that impeachment is Congress' exclusive jurisdiction, so why go to the Supreme Court? That's what I've been saying – when your defense is weak, you're afraid to face the allegations. Let's put it that way, as simple as that. If you know you're at fault, of course you're afraid to face your accusers," added Alvarez in a mix of English and Filipino.

Sereno has accused Alvarez of pushing for the impeachment because of their history. Sereno represented the government in the case stemming from an allegedly anomalous deal with Philippine International Air Terminals Company Incorporated (Piatco). Alvarez was accused of having profited from the deal but this charge was eventually dropped by the Ombudsman.

Two of the House's deputy speakers defended the lower chamber from Sereno's allegations. (READ: Garcia on Sereno impeachment: It's 'democracy in action')

Alvarez himself said Sereno has a habit of "diverting the issues," though he made no mention of the Piatco links in the Monday interview. The Speaker earlier belittled the allegations against him.

Last October, the House impeached Commission on Elections Chairman Andres Bautista after it overturned a committee report recommending the dismissal of the impeachment complaint against him.

But Bautista's resignation – which was supposed to take effect on December 31 yet – was immediately accepted by President Rodrigo Duterte. The House justice committee is not likely to forward the final report to the Senate as articles of impeachment since Bautista is already out of his post.

Duterte himself has called on Sereno to resign alongside him and Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, a former lawmaker, also reiterated Duterte's challenge to Sereno, saying she should spare the SC from "any further damage." Roque was once an ex-officio member of the House justice committee since he was also deputy minority leader.

Sereno's lawyers have said there is no reason for her to resign because she has not violated the Constitution. – Rappler.com