Solons: Chief Justice won't be arrested, or forced to attend House panel impeachment hearings

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 28) — The Chief Justice will not be arrested even if she continues to snub House hearings on her impeachment, lawmakers said Tuesday.

Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno cannot be compelled to testify in her own impeachment case, Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas said.

He said this was the advice he gave his colleagues in an executive session on Monday. Also present was House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, who agreed.

"Kanyang call 'yan (That's Sereno's call). That's the right of the respondent," Fariñas said in a press conference as the House Committee on Justice resumed the third day of hearing the impeachment complaint filed by lawyer Lorenzo Gadon against the Chief Justice.

House Justice Committee Chair Reynaldo Umali has come under fire for his comment on Monday warning Sereno that she may be arrested for not attending the hearings.

Umali on Tuesday clarified he was only responding to a "hypothetical" question.

"I mentioned that I cannot even do it myself because this is a collegiate body composed of 50 members…  We take action on basis of majority decision," he said.

Senators Franklin Drilon on Chiz Escudero on Monday warned of a constitutional crisis if the justice committee will demand Sereno's appearance  at the hearings.

"I therefore urge Congressman Umali to exercise extreme caution in using the coercive powers of Congress to issue a subpoena against Sereno as there is no basis and will provoke a needless constitutional crisis," Drilon said.

Sereno's spokesperson Carlo Cruz told CNN Philippines' The Source the Chief Justice will only attend impeachment hearings at the advice of her legal counsel.

Sereno's camp maintained it is the complainant who should testify and prove the accusations against the Chief Justice, and not the other way around.

The House Committee on Justice has barred her lawyers from cross-examining witnesses on her behalf.

Congressmen to senators: Relax, you will have your time

The congressmen, however, said the justice panel can issue subpoenas to compel witnesses to attend the impeachment hearings.

Umali said the Constitution grants the panel "exclusive power" to do so.

"The House of Representatives shall have the exclusive power to initiate all cases of impeachment," Umali said, quoting Article 11, Section 3 of the 1987 Constitution.

"So this exclusive power is the power from which we draw our power to issue compulsory processes including subpoena and even the power to issue a warrant if at all," Umali said.

He took a swipe at senators commenting on the impeachment hearings.

"You will have your time, senator-judges, if and when this case is filed in the Senate," he said.

Alvarez said he is happy that senators seem excited to handle Sereno's impeachment case, but that they should "relax" and wait for the Lower House's decision.

A vote of at least one-third of the members of the House of Representatives, or 98 out of the 292 incumbent congressmen, can start an impeachment trial at the Senate.

In the impeachment case, Gadon accused the Chief Justice of violating the Constitution, corruption, betrayal of public trust, and other high crimes - grounds for officials to be impeached under the 1987 Constitution.

Related: House panel finds sufficient grounds for Sereno impeachment

Sereno denied the allegations, and asked for the complaint to be junked.