CHIEF Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno was unseated on Friday by her peers in an unprecedented Supreme Court ruling, wherein majority of justices declared her disqualified to head the Judicial Branch of government for her supposed “lack of integrity, honesty and probity.”
Eight justices voted to grant the petition for quo warranto initiated by the Executive Branch through Solicitor General Jose Calida, as predicted by The Manila Times, while six magistrates voted against.
The decision, penned by Associate Justice Noel Tijam, declared Sereno “guilty of unlawfully holding and exercising the Office of the Chief Justice.”
“The position of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is declared vacant and the Judicial and Bar Council is directed to commence the application and nomination process,” it said.
The decision was to be executed immediately, “without need of further action from the Court.”
Moreover, Sereno was ordered to show cause within 10 days why she should not be sanctioned for violating the Code of Professional Responsibility and the Code of Judicial Conduct “for transgressing the sub judice (gag) rule and for casting aspersions and ill motives to the Members of the Supreme Court.”
Sereno, a former law professor at the University of the Philippines, became only the second chief justice to be kicked out of office.
Her predecessor, the late Renato Corona, was removed as chief justice through impeachment in 2012 for alleged hidden wealth, at the bidding of the Aquino administration.
Sereno, 57, was the youngest to be named to the Supreme Court and the first woman to lead the judiciary.
“I am a victim today,” she told reporters in a news conference Friday evening. “But I am just one thousands upon
thousands whose lives have been snuffed out, who continue to remain in detentions, who have been unfairly accused, unfairly victimized by the very powerful forces of society that must be exposed for what they are.”
The ousted chief magistrate claimed a “moral victory,” noting that she would have won, 6-2, if six justices she had accused of bias against her had inhibited.
Sereno was referring to Associate Justices Teresita Leonardo de Castro, Noel Tijam, Francis Jardeleza, Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, and Samuel Martires, who voted in favor of the petition to oust her along with Associate Justices Andres Reyes Jr. and Alexander Gesmundo.
The dissenters were Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and Associate Justices Presbitero Velasco Jr., Mariano del Castillo, Estela Perlas-Bernabe, Marvic Leonen and Benjamin Caguioa.
The high court ruled that Sereno’s appointment as chief justice was void from the beginning for her failure to file the required number of statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALNs) when she applied for the post.
This was the same charge contained in the impeachment complaint filed against her by lawyer Lorenzo Gadon, which is now moot.
Sereno had argued that she could only be removed through impeachment under the 1987 Constitution.
There was another voting on the issue of whether quo warranto was the proper remedy to the case or not.
Voting was 9-5, with Justice Velasco voting that quo warranto was the proper remedy, but the case against Sereno was premature.
During the special en banc session on Friday, Sereno initially presided over the deliberations.
According to a court source, Sereno was asked by Carpio to step out of the room. The case of Sereno was listed as No. 7, but the en banc called her case first.
“I think you have to step out of the room,” Carpio was quoted by the source as telling Sereno.
Voting started after with the disclosure of all the votes and separate concurring and dissenting opinions.
By lunchtime, the en banc was concluded and other cases were not called anymore.
Sereno left her office by lunchtime and went to Padre Faura Street to meet her supporters and thank them.
Calida lauded the high court for its decision, calling it a “clear exercise of judicial independence even against the highest official of the judiciary.”
“The Supreme Court Decision ousting Maria Lourdes Sereno augurs well for the country as it preserves the stability and integrity of the Judiciary. This Decision is the epitome of its exercise of judicial independence…
Despite the raucous voices of those pretending to champion the Constitution, the magistrates stayed true to their oath and faithfully adhered to the rule of law,” he said.
More than 1,000 Manila policemen were deployed on Friday around the Supreme Court, where some 2,000 protesters gathered ahead of the special en banc session.
WITH ARIC JOHN SY CUA, DEO BANIDA, ENRIQUE AGCAOILI, RAADEE SAUSA AND ROY D.R. NARRA