Senators warn of constitutional crisis

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon

MANILA — Forcing Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno to attend House committee hearings on her impeachment by threatening her with detention would spark a constitutional crisis, senators warned on Monday.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and Sen. Francis Escudero, in separate interviews, cautioned House justice committee chairman Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali against making good his threat to subpoena Sereno and order her detention in case she stands her ground.

Drilon said such a move has “no basis and will provoke a needless constitutional crisis.”

The committee is deliberating on whether there is probable cause to impeach Sereno. Lawyer Lorenzo Gadon filed the complaint.

“The House committee on justice cannot force Sereno to attend and testify in an impeachment hearing against her. It cannot be done without triggering a constitutional crisis,” the Senate minority leader said.

“The power of the House of Representatives to issue a subpoena, motu propio, cannot be used during the investigation of an impeachment complaint,” he pointed out.

He said the power of Congress to issue a subpoena and order the detention of a witness who refuses to obey the subpoena is available only in investigations in aid of legislation and not in impeachment proceedings.

“Requiring her to testify against herself would place her under the strongest temptation to commit perjury and subject her to an extortion of confessions by duress,” Drilon explained.

Moreover, this will violate Sereno’s constitutional rights and the principles of separation of powers enshrined in the Constitution.

“Since the primary purpose of the request to subpoena the Chief Justice is to require her to testify for the prosecution in relation to the Articles of Impeachment filed against her, this runs afoul of her constitutional right against self-incrimination. Section 17, Article III of the Constitution states that ‘No person shall be compelled to be a witness against himself,’” he said.

Escudero said even in the remote possibility that Sereno would be convinced to attend the impeachment hearings, she could not be compelled to give evidence against herself.