House panel invites SC justices impeachment proceedings vs. Sereno

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 22) —The House Justice Committee extended its invitation to all Supreme Court (SC) justices to the impeachment proceedings against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.

Rep. Kaka Bag-ao motioned to invite all the high court magistrates on Wednesday, during the hearing to determine whether there is probable cause to impeach Sereno, based on the complaint filed by Atty. Larry Gadon.

"I think to shed light on the issue of falsification of this administrative issuance of the Supreme Court, I think we should invite all the justices of the report," she said.

Bag-ao's motion was met with no objections.

Cebu Rep. Gwendolyn Garcia, however, said the invite should be extended only if the need arises.

"If we were to truly imagine that such an invitation would be extended to the entire court, then that already borders upon the ridicule, and incredulity," she said.

The invite was prompted by Gadon accusing Sereno of committing "culpable violation of the Constitution" through falsification of SC documents.

As the Justice Committee's chair, Rep. Reynaldo Umali asked Gadon to substantiate his claims, prompting Antipolo City Rep. Romeo Acop to make a motion to invite Associate Justice Teresita De Castro to the hearings.

Gadon earlier claimed the chief magistrate falsified a SC resolution on the opening of a Regional Constitutional Administrative Office (RCAO) in 2012, and a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) effectively stopping the proclamation of certain party-list groups in 2013.

Quoting a Manila Times report by a certain Jomar Canlas in June 2013, Gadon said De Castro questioned Sereno's order to reopen the RCAO in Region 7, despite the office's failure to open in 2008.

He added Sereno "deliberately tampered with an altered the contents" of the draft TRO, which was assigned to the associate justice.

In a Monday statement, however, De Castro denied releasing information to the reporter.

"I have never released to Jomar Canlas any information, report, or document regarding the work of the Court," De Castro's statement read.

Siquijor Rep. Ramon Rocamora said Gadon was only "upending on this committee to produce his evidence."

"He should have those evidence already--first hand, when he made those allegations. Therefore, he should have taken the affidavit of the justices supposed to testify here," Rocamora said.

Violating internal rules

Sereno's lawyers claim that if proven to be true, De Castro would be violating the court's Internal Rules on Confidentiality.

"Atty. Gadon's disclosure that his source of information for Supreme Court Internal Memorandum is no other than Senior Justice Teresita De Castro, if indeed true, reveals that Senior Justice De Castro clearly violated the Internal Rules of the Supreme Court. The Internal Rules of the Supreme Court prominently safeguards the confidentiality of Supreme Court sessions and its internal documents," Attorney Josalee Deinla said in a statement Monday.

Deinla said the high court's sessions only invite its members.

"Supreme Court deliberations are confidential and shall not be disclosed to outside parties, except if authorized by the Supreme Court," she added.

Deinla also said Supreme Court documents and internal memoranda may only be released upon an official written request from the Judicial Staff Head or the Chief of Office of the requesting Office. Those who obtain copies are also bound under the court's rules on confidentiality.

Earlier, the House justice committee decided to prohibit the lawyers of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno from attending the hearing.

READ: House panel prohibits Chief Justice's lawyers from participating in impeachment proceeding

According to her spokesperson, the House panel's decision is "tantamount to barring the Chief Justice herself."

Voting 30-4, the house panel disallowed lawyers of Sereno to cross-examine witnesses on her behalf.

The House of Representatives and Sereno's camp have been engaged in an argument over the Chief Justice's right for her lawyers to represent her and question witnesses in the impeachment proceedings against her.

The lower house believes this contravenes the rules of procedure of the House of Representatives for impeachment, while the lawyers assert she has the right to counsel.

The House panel is set to vote if there is probable cause behind Sereno's impeachment on December 13.