House warns Sereno not to ignore summons

Chief Justice Lourdes Sereno

MANILA — The chairman of the House committee on justice threatened on Sunday to arrest Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno if she continues to ignore summonses to appear before her impeachment hearings.

“Of course, a subpoena has coercive power,” said panel chairman and Oriental Mindoro Rep. Rey Umali in an interview on radio dzBB. “Once she ignores it, we will be forced to issue a warrant.”
 
Sereno is mandated under the Constitution to face the impeachment complaint filed against her, he said, adding the separation of powers of the legislative body and judiciary system cannot be invoked.

“We have the authority to use the committee’s coercive power under the Constitution. 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 matters that need to be testified [upon by Sereno], the committee is likely to issue a subpoena.”
He said there is no need for Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez to sign the arrest warrant.

“The Speaker does not need to approve the warrant,” he added.

He said the committee would not wait for Sereno to ignore its three invitations before it would issue a warrant since there is a need to end the impeachment proceedings within 60 session days.

The committee on justice has invited Supreme Court Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, court administrator Midas Marquez, clerk of court Felipa Anama and even Manila Times reporter Jomar Canlas today to shed light on several matters in connection with the allegations against Sereno, he said.

But he said the court members still need the consent of the en banc to attend the impeachment proceedings.

Should De Castro and the other Supreme Court officials fail to appear, the justice committee is left with no option but to continue with the impeachment process, Umali said.
The witnesses can still take the stand tomorrow and Wednesday.

In a separate interview on radio dzMM, Umali said Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre would take the stand this week to testify on allegations that Sereno manipulated and delayed his request to transfer the cases against Maute group terrorists to venues outside Mindanao for security reasons.

The Court later granted his request, however.

Lawyer Larry Gadon filed the impeachment complaint against Sereno for culpable violation of the Constitution, betrayal of public trust, corruption and other high crimes.

Sereno has denied the allegations against her and has refused to attend the impeachment hearings, saying her lawyers can question witnesses on her behalf.

House leaders, however, said this was against the rules of procedure, which state that only resource persons are allowed to speak, and not their lawyers.