Sereno's Choice

MANILA, Philippines - Malacañang Sunday left to the discretion of Supreme Court (SC) Associate Justice Lourdes Sereno if she is willing to testify in the Senate impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato C. Corona.

Deputy Presidential Spokeswoman Abigail Valte acknowledged that only Sereno could elaborate on Corona's alleged partiality towards former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in the SC decision to issue a stay order on the travel ban on her last year.

Valte, however, conceded that Sereno must still abide by internal rules of the Supreme Court before she volunteers herself as a witness in the trial of Corona.

''From what we understand, there are internal rules of the Supreme Court to that effect and that will really depend on Justice Sereno,'' she said over government radio when asked if the Palace prefers Sereno to testify in the Corona trial.

The prosecution reportedly plans to ask the impeachment court to formally invite Sereno tO the Senate this week.

An invitation is reportedly an alternative to the subpoena which the Senate impeachment court had rejected in deference to the co-equal branch of government.

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile said the matter will be discussed by the 23 senator-judges in a caucus Monday as he stressed that ''written interrogatories is a remedy for either the defense or prosecution panel.''

Senator Antonio Trillanes IV had proposed to send written interrogatories to Sereno presumptively to elicit more information on the SC's en banc decision.

''From what we saw last week, she wrote a very - how do we say it to put it mildly- a very scathing dissenting opinion. As to the truth or the accuracy of those statements, only Justice Sereno can confirm that. It will be dependent entirely on the Justice herself and also on the en banc of the Supreme Court,'' she added.

The House prosecution panel cited the need for Sereno to testify in the trial to shed light on the circumstances behind the issuance of the Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) against a travel ban on former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

House prosecutors-Citizens' Battle Against Corruption party-list Rep. Sherwin Tugna, Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali, Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Neri Colmenares and their spokesman, Marikina Rep. Miro Quimbo said Sereno would be the best person to explain the alleged irregularities in the issuance of the TRO that favored Mrs. Arroyo.

''Her attendance is very important. Interrogatories to parties cannot equate with her actual testimony because only she can shed light on the alleged wrongdoings committed by the Chief Justice in using his power and influence in the issuance of the TRO and to make it appear that it is immediately executory,'' Tugna said.

Umali agreed with his colleague, saying that Sereno's appearance before the impeachment court would prove that Justice Secretary Leila de Lima's testimony on irregularities cited by Sereno in her dissenting opinion on the TRO issued by the High Court last Nov. 15 was not ''hearsay.''

''It's important in the sense that testimony of Secretary Leila will no longer be considered hearsay. While, it is just a dissenting opinion, it exposed the internal weaknesses of our judicial system, especially when headed by a chief justice who is morally unfit to lead the judicial department,'' he said.

Valte noted that Enrile has already ruled the testimony of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima on Sereno's dissenting opinion as mere hearsay.

''As to the truth or the accuracy of the fact as narrated by Secretary De Lima, as found in the dissenting opinion of Justice Sereno, it remains to be seen,'' she said.

But there are still reservations, on the part of some senator-judges, because the impeachment court may be accused of engaging in a ''fishing expedition'' should it decide to invite Sereno.

Colmenares, lead prosecutor for Article VII, which accuses Corona of betraying public trust for issuing the TRO against the travel ban on Mrs. Arroyo, stressed ''there will be no double standard in the search for the truth about Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona.''

The progressive solon said he has faith in the Impeachment Court that it would subpoena or at least invite Sereno.

For the prosecution, Sereno's testimony is supposedly crucial bolster Article 7 that accuses Corona of betrayal of public trust for allegedly granting a TRO against the travel on Arroyo so she can escape abroad.

The defense team of Corona plans to reject the testimony of Sereno, saying that deliberations of the high court are confidential and she must still get the consent of the SC.

In her testimony last week, De Lima cited the irregularities pointed out by Sereno in her dissenting opinion on the high court's issued TRO last Nov. 15, 2011.

Since Enrile has decided to dismiss De Lima's testimony as hearsay but allowed it to remain as part of the court's records, Trillanes raised the possibility of getting the court to invite Sereno to shed more information on the controversial ruling.

Enrile said the matter will be discussed by the 23 senator-judges in a caucus, Monday as he stressed that ''written interrogatories is a remedy for either the defense or prosecution panel.''

''I'm not sure how the members of the impeachment court should go about this,'' Enrile said in a recent interview adding that he has to study impeachment rules.

''Hindi ko nga malaman kung pwede yun sa mga members of the court na moto propio yung mismong yung huwes ang umorder ng written interrogatories (I don't know if the members of the court moto propio should allow that the court itself order for the written interrogatories),'' the presiding officer added.

But if the prosecution wants to send written questionnaires, the Senate President said ''they have to file the motion.'' ''Hindi pwedeng susulat lang, mag mo motion sila. Iyon ang tanda ko sa impeachment rules.''

But the Supreme Court, which also has the right to exercise judicial privilege especially on, has the option to refuse the written interrogatories. (With reports from Charissa M. Luci)