Fariñas: House can't compel Sereno to face impeachment panel

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Contrary to the opinion of "impeachment committee" chairman Reynaldo Umali, House Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas said on Tuesday, November 28, that the House cannot compel Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno to appear before the committee, which is tackling an impeachment complaint against her.

"I advised them that when it comes to the respondent, the Chief Justice, in any case, administrative or criminal, we cannot compel the respondent or the accused to testify," said Fariñas in a press briefing with Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez.

Fariñas and the rest of the justice committee's regular and ex-officio members had met in an executive or closed-door session on Monday, November 27, to discuss how it would handle the case of invitations extended towards members of the Supreme Court (SC) in connection with the impeachment hearing.

In an interview over the weekend, Umali said the committee could issue a subpoena and later on, a warrant, should Sereno ignore the committee's invitations despite a theoretical need for her to answer some questions.

Umali would later clarify that this was merely his personal take on the matter and would not necessarily be the committee's eventual action.  

The Chief Justice has been invited to attend the committee's hearings as it determines probable cause in the impeachment case against her filed by lawyer Larry Gadon.

Sereno has chosen to skip the hearings, instead authorizing her lawyers to speak and act on her behalf. The committee, however, disallowed the Chief Justice's lawyers from participating in the proceedings. Sereno has already filed a formal reply to Gadon's allegations against her.

Fariñas, a Bar topnotcher, said the rules are different for witnesses or resource persons, whom the House can compel to attend, based on its own rules. The committee has invited several personalities from the SC, including associate justices, a retired justice, and other top officials.

The SC en banc later voted unanimously on Tuesday to allow "if they so wish" all justices and employees invited by the House to testify.

When asked for a comment on Umali's pronouncements and the possibility of compelling Sereno to attend the House hearings, Alvarez merely quipped: "I subscribe to the opinion of the majority leader. Alam mo naman, Bar topnotcher siya (You know, he's a Bar topnotcher)." – Rappler.com