CHIEF Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno thought she had the golden opportunity to redeem herself and turn the tide in her favor during the oral arguments on the quo warranto case against her at the Supreme Court’s en banc session in Baguio City on Thursday.
At the center of the separate impeachment and quo warranto cases is Sereno’s failure to submit all of her annual statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) as required when she applied for the post of associate justice of the Supreme Court in 2010 and chief justice in 2012.
On Tuesday, the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC), the body that screens court nominees, officially confirmed that Sereno submitted only three SALNs – for the years 2009, 2010 and 2011 – when she sought to replace Chief Justice Renato Corona (who was, ironically, convicted by the Senate impeachment court over a SALN infraction).
There should have been more, as Sereno was a government worker, having taught law at the University of the Philippines for almost two decades.
Asked by Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo de Castro if she submitted all of her SALNs to the JBC in 2010, Sereno refused to answer, engaged de Castro in a verbal tussle, and even dared her colleagues to be ready for quo warranto petitions themselves if even one of their SALNs was found to be missing.
Running out of arguments, Sereno cited the “Doblada Doctrine,” in which a Pasig City sheriff was exonerated by the Supreme Court despite his missing SALNs. The high court ruled that a certification that there were no SALNs on record did not mean non-filing of SALNs.
But that doctrine does not apply, as Sereno would not be able to produce the same certification. At most, UP might be able to certify that she had on file a mere three SALNs despite her long teaching career at the state university.
What Sereno got was a stinging rebuke from Associate Justice Noel Tijam, who told Sereno: “Integrity, chief justice, is not founded on jurisprudence.”
With audacity, Sereno, in effect, said that she was exempted from the SALN law, with which all government employees must comply and for which Corona was impeached and convicted.
She should be exempted, or held at a lower standard, as her flawed logic goes, because her colleagues also did it and were not being punished for it. This accusation is bold and unfounded, and could easily be debunked by the other justices.
But what is striking is that Sereno believes that the law should be suspended for her if it could not apply to anyone.
Sereno’s demeanor only confirmed what many have long observed – that she is unfit for the lofty post she occupies.
It was the first time for a sitting chief justice to be grilled by her colleagues in open court, and, if we may add, humiliated in such a public manner.
By choosing, however, to be combative, if not arrogant, and overly emotional, Sereno probably sealed her fate. If not a Senate impeachment trial, the Supreme Court is likely to kick her out for lack of qualification and by extension, integrity.