Justice Committee Chair: Legal counsel exit was 'unfair for Chief Justice'

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  • Umali says the supermajority is against Sereno
  • Umali: Some parts of complaint hearsay, but documents give basis
  • Umali on contradiction between Gadon, De Castro: Somebody is lying

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 23) — Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno's legal counsel should not have exited the hearing on Wednesday, the House Justice Committee Chair said Thursday.

"I felt that it was unfair for the Chief Justice that they should leave," Rep. Rey Umali told CNN Philippines' The Source. "If they leave, who then takes the cudgels for their client?"

Sereno's counsel was not allowed to cross-examine witnesses against her during the hearing on Wednesday. The lawyers excused themselves and said in a statement the decision was equal to barring the Chief Justice herself, and "belies [the panel's] claim of an open and democratic process that honors the right to a fair trial."

Related: Chief Justice's lawyers lament being barred from participating in impeachment

Umali maintained that they should have coursed their cross-examination through the members of the House. He added it was their role "to defend [Sereno] under situations where they are not allowed to cross-examine."

"If the Chief Justice would allow that she will be totally protected and unguarded because of the absence of her lawyers, that is her lookout," Umali said.

Sereno's lawyers on Wednesday wanted the House to immediately send the articles of impeachment to the Senate, where they said they felt "confident" they could defend the Chief Justice. The upper house will act as the impeachment court.

Related: Sereno lawyers: Fast-track impeachment, bring it to Senate

"Ganoon naman talaga ang mangyayari [That is really what will happen]," Umali said on taking the impeachment to the Senate.

He referred to the congressmen as prosecutors, even as the House panel is still deliberating on probable cause. He added they were expected to "get all of the necessary documents, evidence, witnesses for us to be able to bring this matter... before the Senate impeachment court."

"We cannot be passive here. We now have to do our job as prosecutors, and [prosecuting] means we need to build a case," Umali said.

When asked if the panel was not pre-empting the results of the investigation, he said it will still depend on what the lawmakers find, as well as their vote.

"This will all be really dependent on the majority decision," Umali said. "Unfortunately for the Chief Justice, there is a supermajority in the House that seems to be interested in pursuing this."

The Chief Justice is accused of violating the Constitution, corruption, betrayal of public trust, and other high crimes, as submitted in a complaint by lawyer Larry Gadon.

Some allegations 'hearsay'

Umali admitted he thought some of Gadon's allegations were hearsay, but maintained there were evidence to back up the rest of his claims.

"All of those that [he] attributes to another person that he has not talked to are hearsay," Umali said.

Referencing a Manila Times report by a certain Jomar Canlas, Gadon alleged Sereno altered with the contents of a draft order assigned to Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo De Castro.

Related: House panel invites SC justices impeachment proceedings vs. Sereno

However, De Castro in a statement said she "never released... any information, report, or document regarding the work of the Court" to Canlas.

Umali said the documents they had as basis "contained the resolution of the discussions of the Supreme Court." One of the documents the panel is reviewing was transposed from a junked impeachment complaint by Dante Jimenez.

"How [the documents] transferred from one hand to the other is another matter, for which there might [be] violations committed like perjury, or even contempt of the Committee on Justice, by I don't know. It depends on what Jomar Canlas will say," Umali said.

The committee chair added that among Canlas, De Castro, and Gadon, somebody was lying.

"Somebody is not telling the truth. Somebody is lying... I will refer that perhaps to the court or probably to the [Department of Justice] to investigate," he said.

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

CNN Philippines digital producers Chad de Guzman and Yvette Morales contributed to this story.