(UPDATED) Lawyers of Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno walked out of the third hearing Wednesday, November 22, of the House committee on justice on the impeachment complaint against the Chief Justice.
The lawyers headed by Alex Poblador asked to be excused from the hearing after the committee voted 30-4 to approve the move of Rep. Alfredo Garbin to deny the plea of Sereno to be represented by her lawyers and be allowed to cross-examine the witnesses through her lawyers.
Following the decision, the legal counsels of the Chief Justice asked committee chair Reynaldo Umali if they can leave the hearing room. Their request was approved.
Alex Poblador, lead legal counsel of the Chief Justice, in an interview said they left the hearing room as they can no longer represent the Chief Justice.
"We cannot meaningfully participate anyway," said Poblador.
The lead counsel denied being instructed by the Chief Justice to do so.
Poblador, during the interview, expressed his dismay at getting "confusing information" about what the committee would like to do.
"First they said the CJ has the right to examine so long as she conducts the cross-examination herself. Now they say she has no right to cross-examine because under the rules of the ordinary preliminary investigation, there is no cross-examination," said Poblador.
The rules of impeachment expressly provides for a cross-examination, he stressed.
Although Poblador refused to speculate on how the hearing will turn out, he said he still believes that they will be able to defend the Chief Justice in the Senate.
"We are looking forward to have this case brought before the Senate and we are confident that we will be able to defend the Chief Justice there consistent with her constitutional rights," he said.
Earlier, the committee also barred non-members from participating in deliberations on the impeachment complaint.
The committee voted 30-3 to grant the motion of Cebu Rep. Gwendolyn Garcia to restrict deliberations to committee members only.
The vote was made after a brief debate on the position papers filed by minority lawmakers, stating their right to participate. Among the proponents are Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman and Akbayan Rep. Tom Villarin.
The lawmakers filed their respective position papers after the committee in the last hearing issued a letter barring non-members from participating in the proceedings.
Lagman, when given the chance to speak, reiterated his stance that allowing non-members to participate is consistent with the tradition of the House of Representatives.
Lagman also said he believes they should be allowed to participate because the hearing is important as it "decides the fate and fortune of an impeachable officer."
House Majority Leader Rudy Fariñas, for his part, said the committee should not allow non-members to participate. If all 293 House members are given the chance to participate, he said the committee will not finish deliberations on the complaint.
The Chief Justice, through her counsels, has repeatedly insisted on her right to be represented by her lawyers.
Her stand had been repeatedly criticized by the chair of the committee. Umali earlier said Sereno will only be allowed to cross-examine the witnesses if she will personally attend the hearing.
The Chief Justice refused to attend the hearing and gave her lawyers instead the authority to answer on her behalf through a Special Power of Attorney.
As of Wednesday noon, the committee was determining whether there is probable cause to pursue the impeachment complaint against Sereno. (SunStar Philippines)