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

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 22) — Voting 30-4, the House Justice Committee on Wednesday disallowed lawyers of embattled Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno to cross-examine witnesses on her behalf and participate in impeachment proceedings against her.

Moments after the vote, Sereno's lawyers asked to be excused from the hearing, which was held to determine probable cause in the impeachment complaint filed in September.

The vote ended a dispute between the House panel and the Chief Justice on her right to representation by counsel. Sereno was represented by Attorneys Alex Poblador, Anzen Dy, Justin Mendoza, and Dino Tamayo.

The decision is equal to barring the Chief Justice herself, and "belies their claim of an open and democratic process that honors the right to a fair trial," Sereno's spokespersons said in a statement issued shortly after the vote.

"It is apparent that the pursuit of truth has been put aside in favor of biased political interest. The Chief Justice maintains that she is innocent of the charges against her," they added.

READ: Sereno ready to face accusations against her - lawyer

The Chief Justice skipped today's hearing at the House Committee on Justice. For weeks she had asserted that her lawyers had a right to represent and cross-examine the witnesses on her behalf.

READ: CJ Sereno won't attend impeachment hearing

On Tuesday, she submitted a Special Power of Attorney to the House Justice panel, authorizing her lawyers to represent her in all impeachment proceedings.

Sereno is monitoring Wednesday's proceedings but will be attending to her work at the High Court, said another one of her lawyers Attorney Aldwin Salumbides.

Majority Leader Rodolfo Farinas expressed surprise the Chief Justice and her legal team even filed a request to cross-examine witnesses. Among the witnesses is lawyer Larry Gadon, who filed the impeachment complaint.

After Sereno's lawyers left, Gadon was asked to testify. During his testimony, it appeared that some of the high court magistrates such as Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo De Castro, may be summoned to the next house panel hearing on Sereno's impeachment.

"I was wondering why the Chief Justice wants to cross-examine the complainant. For all we know, we might dismiss this. Why go to a full trial?" Farinas said.

AKO Bicol Partylist Representative Alfredo Garbin said the panel's Wednesday hearing is just to determine probable cause, which is similar to a preliminary investigation.

Probable cause aims to find the existence of facts and circumstances sufficient to support the offenses she is charged with, Representative Reynaldo Umali, the chairman of the House Committee on Justice said at the beginning of the hearing.

A preliminary investigation determines whether or not there is a sufficient ground to say a crime has been committed and that the respondent is probably guilty.

Farinas added, the cross-examination can come during the impeachment trial in the Senate.

Sereno is facing an impeachment complaint filed by lawyer Larry Gadon, who has accused her of violating the Constitution, corruption, betrayal of public trust, and other high crimes.

A vote of at least one-third of the members of the House of Representatives, or 98 out of the 292 lawmakers, will result in a trial at the Senate, which will sit as an impeachment court.

READ: House panel chair warns of 'constitutional crisis' if Sereno lawyers turn to high court

CNN Philippines' Anjo Alimario contributed to this report.