Senators warn Sereno subpoena may lead to constitutional crisis


Two senators on Monday, November 27, warned that the possible issuance of a subpoena, or subsequently, an arrest warrant, to Chief Justice Lourdes Sereno may result to a constitutional crisis.

In a message, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon urged the House justice committee to “exercise extreme caution,” saying that issuing a subpoena against the chief magistrate has “no basis” in the first place.

Drilon, also a former Justice secretary, noted that the power of Congress to issue a subpoena and order the detention of a witness who refuses to obey the subpoena is available only in investigations in aid of legislation.

“It is not available in an impeachment proceeding,” said Drilon. “In effect, a subpoena will compel Sereno in an impeachment complaint to testify against herself.”

Earlier Oriental Mindoro Representative Reynaldo Umali, chairman of the House justice committee, threatened to have Sereno arrested if she continues to refuse to attend the ongoing impeachment hearings against her.

But Drilon pointed out that a subpoena, in effect, “will compel Sereno in an impeachment complaint to testify against herself.”

“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.

He went on to say, “When the HOR conducts a hearing on an impeachment complaint, the hearing is not in aid of legislation. The Chief Justice is not being asked to testify as a resource person who can be subpoenaed to assist the HOR discharge its legislative function.”

In a separate message, Senator Francis “Chiz” Escudero, also a former chairman of the Senate Committee on Justice, echoed Drilon’s sentiments.

“It may result in a constitutional crisis if the CJ refuses to attend,” Escudero said.

“But if I remember correctly, the attendance/participation of the respondent in an impeachment case, or in any case for that matter, cannot be compelled to give evidence vs himself/herself even if he/she attends am referring to compulsion to attend and she refuses that may result to constitutional crisis,” he added.

In a radio interview over the weekend, Umali said the House justice committee may be forced to issue a subpoena if there were matters that Sereno would need to be confirmed.

“On the other hand, pag meron talagang mga bagay na dapat niyang testiguhan ay marahil ay mag-issue ang komite ng ika nga ay subpoena (if there are really things that need to be clarified by her, the Committee will be forced to issue a subpoena),” Umali told Super Radyo dzBB.

He went on to say, “At siyempre, pag subpoena, coercive powers yan at hindi po sinunod ay maoobliga tayong mag-issue ng warrant (And of course, subpoenas have coercive powers and if she does not follow it then we will be obliged to issue a warrant).”

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