If there is any reason to beware the Ides of March this year, it could well be that this week may be one of the most eventful in contemporary Philippine history.
Yesterday, Monday, Solicitor–General Jose Calida filed a quo warranto petition with the Supreme Court, challenging directly the legitimacy of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno’s appointment in 2012 by former President Benigno Aquino 3rd and seeking her ouster from the position.
Later in the week, the House committee on justice will bring to a formal close its five-month inquiry into whether there is probable cause to impeach CJ Sereno from her post. The committee is anticipated to vote affirmatively for the filing of formal articles of impeachment against CJ Sereno.
Subsequently, the House in plenary will vote on the articles of impeachment and decide whether to send them to the Senate so the impeachment trial can commence.
It is a testament to the high importance of the issue and the centrality of CJ Sereno in national life today that these two separate public actions have moved forward, independent of each other.
Each initiative has its own compelling reason and should be assigned due importance.
The quo warranto petition bears as its chief merit the possibility that it could quicken the removal of CJ Sereno from her post. It could make unnecessary the conduct of a costly and protracted impeachment trial in the Senate.
The quo warranto challenge rests on the contention that Sereno’s appointment as chief justice was made, although she did not make a complete submission of her Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth during her application for the top magistrate’s post, as required by the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC).
Calida contends that this violated the eligibility requirement of integrity for the position of chief justice.
“By submitting SALNs less than those required by the JBC (Judicial and Bar Council) of other applicants for Chief Justice, and without lawful justification for her non-compliance, Respondent was unable to prove her integrity,” Calida said in the petition.
The quo warranto petition was sired by the perspicacious hearings conducted by the House justice committee into the impeachment complaint filed by lawyer Larry Gadon against CJ Sereno. It was in the course of the five-month hearings that information came to light of Sereno’s failure to submit her SALNs to the JBC, a fundamental failing.
The House probe has the merit of having investigated comprehensively the various issues and charges raised against CJ Sereno. The committee called a considerable number of resource persons and witnesses, and they included some sitting members of the Supreme Court.
The testimony given and the thorough questioning of witnesses collectively presented a portrait of CJ Sereno’s leadership of the high court that was unflattering, incompetent and impeachable.
If the House proceeds to approve the articles of impeachment and send the same to the Senate for trial, we are reasonably convinced that the House can successfully prosecute CJ Sereno during the impeachment trial in the Senate.
In some ways, the House justice hearings can be a model of what a congressional committee hearing should be and what legislators must do. Far too many committees conduct hearings on live TV nowadays that do not justify the public expense entailed by the exercise or come up with anything substantive.
With respect to the fate of CJ Sereno, we believe the most important objective is to see her legally removed from the post of chief justice of the Supreme Court, so she will not be in a position to do harm to the office or render any injustice to the nation.
We attach no value to her being shamed or scorned during her current ordeal, although by reason of the strategy and tactics that she and her lawyers adopted, they made the process more arduous and costly.
Were she more discerning of what was right and what was wrong about her appointment to the high court, she could have spared the nation from this exhausting ordeal, and she herself would have been spared the tremendous emotional toll of being formally dismissed from government.