‘Prosecute the guilty, protect the innocent’
There is no constitutional nor legal basis for the House of Representatives justice committee to issue any warrant of arrest in the event that Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno refuses or fails to appear in any of the hearings conducted by the committee in connection with the impeachment complaint against her.
Sereno’s standing cannot be likened to “resource persons” who, in previous cases, upon being subpoenaed, failed to attend hearings conducted by the House of Representatives or the Senate.
In the case of Sereno, she is a “respondent” in a case actually filed against her. In the case of the said “resource persons,” they are not respondents like Sereno but merely witnesses to testify in a hearing conducted by Congress “in aid of legislation.” In a word, the testimony or appearance of Sereno before the committee is not “in aid of legislation” but to defend herself against the impeachment complaint filed against her.
If, as claimed by committee members, that its hearing is akin to a preliminary investigation in a criminal case, then with more reason that a warrant of arrest cannot be issued by said committee against Sereno if she refuses to attend. Under the rules on preliminary investigation, if the respondent, upon being subpoenaed, does not submit his counter-affidavit, “the investigating officer shall resolve the complaint based on the evidence presented by the complainant.”
Failure of Sereno to appear during the hearing could be construed as a waiver of her right to controvert whatever evidence the complainant may present during the hearing.
However, if indeed an impeachment case is akin to a criminal case, then the would-be prosecutors of the House should be reminded that their “noble task is to prosecute only the guilty and to protect the innocent” as enunciated by the Supreme Court in the 1974 case of People vs Madera. The court said: “This is a good time to emphasize upon those in charge of the prosecution of criminal cases that the prosecutor’s finest hour is not when he wins a case with the conviction of the accused. His finest hour is still when, overcoming the advocate’s natural obsession for victory, he stands up before the Court and pleads not for the conviction of the accused but for his acquittal. For indeed, his noble task is to prosecute only the guilty and to protect the innocent. We, therefore, commend Solicitor General Estelito P. Mendoza, Asst. Solicitor Dominador Quiroz and Solicitor Sinfronio Ancheta for having correctly recommended the acquittal of the appellants.”
ROMULO B. MACALINTAL, Las Piñas City
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