THE Supreme Court on Tuesday allowed justices, officials and employees to appear before congressional hearings on the impeachment complaint filed against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.
In an en banc session, the justices unanimously approved a resolution allowing magistrates and employees to appear before the House committee on justice that invited them to shed light on pertinent issues raised in the impeachment complaint against the chief justice.
Court spokesman Theodore Te said Sereno inhibited herself from the deliberations since she is the one involved.
“Those who are invited to testify on administrative matters may do so if they wish. The Court is not requiring them but the Court is granting them clearance if they so wish to appear and testify on administrative matters,” Te told reporters.
“On adjudicative matters, meaning matters that go into the decision of cases, which would include deliberation of cases, only Justice Teresita de Castro has been authorized to appear and testify before the House committee on justice and only in relation to three matters,” Te added.
Te said De Castro is permitted to discuss the exchange of communications between herself and Sereno on the issuance of the temporary restraining order in the Senior Citizens party-list case.
De Castro can also testify on the merits of the decision she penned that declared unconstitutional the clustering of shortlisted nominees ma rc onde by the Judicial and Bar Council last year in connection with the vacancies in the Sandiganbayan.
The tribunal has also allowed De Castro to discuss the merits of her separate concurring opinion in the August 2014 decision that voided the JBC’s decision not to include the name of then Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza on the shortlist of nominees for a seat in the Court after Sereno raised an integrity issue against him.
However, Te said De Castro is barred from discussing the deliberations of the Court on those three cases.
Aside from De Castro and Te, the House committee on justice has also invited Associate Justice Noel Tijam, former SC Justice
Arturo Brion, Court Administrator Jose Midas Marquez, Clerk of Court Felipa Anama, and chief judicial staff officer Charlotte Labayani to the hearings.
The committee invited De Castro to testify after lawyer Larry Gadon, the complainant in the impeachment case, cited media reports that she accused Sereno of falsifying the stay order to prevent the Commission on Elections from proclaiming the five remaining winners of the party-list race in the May 2013 polls.
Pressed by lawmakers if he had personal knowledge about Sereno omitting De Castro’s recommendation to stop the disqualification of the Senior Citizens party-list only and not the party-list proclamation itself, Gadon said the information was relayed to him by Manila Times senior reporter Jomar Canlas. Canlas, in turn, said he got the information from De Castro—and claim the associate justice denied.
Tijam was invited by the House in connection to an allegation in the complaint that Sereno caused the delay in the transfer of the rebellion cases against arrested members and supporters of Maute terrorist group in Marawi City to a court in Metro Manila.
Brion, for his part, was also asked to testify in connection to his concurring opinion in the SC ruling on Jardeleza’s appointment.
In August, the Court allowed the release of court records and documents sought by impeachment complainants to bolster their case against Sereno.
Among the records ordered released were the SC’s revocation of Sereno’s order in 2012 to reopen a regional constitutional administrative office in Cebu without the collegial approval of the Court.
The SC also granted the release of Sereno’s memorandum for the appointment of lawyer Solomon Lumba as her staff head and the subsequent letter of Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio withdrawing his signature in the said appointment over an internal issue.
The Court rejected the request, however, for the release of a memo from De Castro questioning Sereno’s orders that lacked the approval of the collegial court, including the appointment of a Philippine Judicial Academy official and providing travel allowances to her staff.
The memo, the Court said, could not be released pending its resolution.
Also on Tuesday, House Majority Leader and Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas said the House cannot compel Sereno to attend the impeachment proceedings against her, contradicting the chairman of the committee on justice, Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali, who said he could issue a subpoena to force the chief justice’s attendance.
“I advised them that when it comes to the respondent, the chief justice… we cannot compel the respondent or the accused to testify,” Fariñas said at a news conference.
Fariñas said the House justice panel met in closed-door session Monday to decide on how to handle invitations extended to Supreme Court members to testify at the impeachment hearings.
Meanwhile, Umali said warnings of a constitutional crisis from Senators Franklin Drilon and Francis Escudero were “unfounded.”
Umali said the conduct of impeachment proceedings is well within the powers of the House, but said he raised the possibility of a subpoena only to answer questions from the press about what they could do if Sereno refuses to show up at the proceedings.
Umali also appealed to the two senators to respect the impeachment process “rather than obfuscating it and creating an atmosphere of disrespect, or perhaps questioning the proceeding.”