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Drilon, Escudero warn Sereno subpoena will lead to constitutional crisis

MANILA, Philippines – Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and Senator Francis Escudero opposed the possible issuance of an arrest warrant or subpoena to Chief Justice Lourdes Sereno, saying it will “provoke” a constitutional crisis.

Drilon and Escudero, both lawyers, were reacting to the statement of House justice committee chair Reynaldo Umali.

Drilon said the power of Congress to issue subpoena only covers investigations in aid of legislation, not impeachment proceedings.

“In effect, a subpoena will compel Sereno in an impeachment complaint to testify against herself. I therefore urge Cong. Umali to exercise extreme caution in using the coercive powers of Congress to issue a subpoena against Sereno as there is no basis and will provoke a needless constitutional crisis,” Drilon said in a text message on Monday, November 27.

“When the HOR conducts a hearing on an impeachment complaint, the hearing is not in aid of legislation. The Chief Justice is not being asked to testify as a resource person who can be subpoenaed to assist the HOR discharge its legislative function,” he added.

Escudero said the attendance of a respondent in an impeachment case is not required and added he or she could not be forced to incriminate him or herself.

“It may result in a constitutional crisis if the CJ refuses to attend. but if I remember correctly, the attendance/participation of the respondent in an impeachment case, or in any case for that matter, cannot be compelled to give evidence vs himself/herself even if he/she attends am referring to compulsion to attend and she refuses that may result to constitutional crisis,” Escudero said.

Umali, in a radio interview on Sunday, November 26, said: “Kung mayroon talagang mga bagay na dapat siyang testiguhan, marahil magi-isyu ang komite ng subpoena. Kung hindi sinunod, ma-oobliga na tayo na mag-isyu ng warrant,” Umali said in an interview on radio dzBB Sunday morning, November 26. 

(If there are issues she need to testify on, the committee will perhaps issue a subpoena. If she doesn’t obey that, we will be obliged to issue a warrant.)

The camp of Sereno earlier appealed to Umali to observe the principle separation of powers. (READ: Sereno camp: Gadon is using House to 'fish' for evidence)

“She is hopeful that the Committee on Justice would likewise proceed with similar prudence and remain faithful to the principle of separation of powers, as provided for in our Constitution,” Sereno’s spokesperson lawyer Carlo Cruz earlier said in response.

The House justice committee resumes discussion of the Sereno impeachment case as of posting. – Rappler.com

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email camille.elemia@rappler.com

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