Non-members of House justice panel barred from participating in Sereno impeachment hearing

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 22) —  The House Committee on Justice on Wednesday barred non-members of the panel from participating in the impeachment proceedings against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.

The panel, in a vote of 30 for and three against, approved the motion of Deputy Speaker Gwen Garcia of Cebu which sought to only allow members of the committee to participate in the deliberations.

The House Committee on Justice is taking up the issue of probable cause in the impeachment complaint filed by Attorney Larry Gadon.

Also read: Sereno ready to face accusations against her

Albay Representative Edcel Lagman had pushed for non-members of the house committee like himself to be allowed to participate in the committee deliberations. He cited his years of experience serving in the lower house in seven different sessions of Congress.

Lagman had also pushed to allow the Chief Justice to be represented in the impeachment proceedings by her lawyers. But this stance was also denied in a separate motion.

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

Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas justified the house committee's vote saying they were only following the Constitution.

"This is a constitutional process. If it is allowed, that will be a dangerous procedure," Fariñas said.

The House of Representatives is composed of 292 members. Fariñas feared that if all members are allowed to attend and participate, the committee will not finish their deliberations within the 60-working day period, which ends around March 2018.

"I reiterate the position of the Committee on Rules...non-members of the committee cannot participate in the deliberations," Fariñas added.

In a letter she sent through her lawyers to the committee, the Chief Justice attached a Special Power of Attorney authorizing her lawyers to represent her, exercise her rights, and protect her interests.

Also read: Chief Justice's lawyers push for their right to cross-examine witnesses in impeachment proceedings

If the House Justice Committee on Wednesday finds probable cause to impeach Sereno, it will send a report to the plenary. 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.