THE Supreme Court en banc on Tuesday ordered Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno to comment on the quo warranto petition filed against her by the Office of the Solicitor General.
Associate justices gave Sereno, who is on indefinite leave, 10 days to submit her reply from notice. The period to answer is non-extendible.
In its petition, the Office of the Solicitor General said the appointment of Sereno was void from the beginning for her alleged failure to file her complete statement of assets, liabilities and net worth as required by law.
The Supreme Court junked a separate petition, filed by lawyer Oliver Lozano, to void Sereno’s appointment, for lack of merit.
Associate Justice Noel Tijam is the member in charge or the ponente of the case, tasked to study the case and make recommendations.
This was the first week of deliberations of the court en banc without Sereno after she was forced by her colleagues to go on indefinite leave of absence.
Court spokesman Theodore Te, in a news briefing, made the announcement following Tuesday’s regular en banc session.
“The Court, without giving due course to the petition, required respondent Chief Justice Sereno to submit her comment on the petition (for quo warranto) within a period of 10 days from receipt of notice,” Te said during the press conference.
It was also announced that Associate Justice Justice Marvic Leonen issued a dissenting opinion on the petition, saying it should be dismissed outright.
In a 34-page petition for quo warranto, Solicitor General Jose Calida asked the high court to declare Sereno’s appointment on August 24, 2012 as void.
Calida also asked that Sereno be ousted from the position of chief justice.
This is the first case of its kind in the high court, seeking to oust an impeachable officer, the chief justice, because of a void appointment.
It was also the first for the Office of the Solicitor General as petitioner, instead of respondent in cases where it represents the government.
The petition stemmed from a letter filed by suspended lawyer Eligio Mallari, who asked the top government lawyer to initiate a quo warranto proceeding against Sereno.
Under Rule 66 of the Rules of Court, a quo warranto proceeding is an action by the government against a person who unlawfully holds a public office or holds a position where he or she is not qualified.
Fariñas may put impeach vote on hold
House Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas of llocos Norte said the House of Representatives won’t likely vote on the impeachment complaint against Sereno pending the resolution of the quo warranto petition.
Under House rules, the House Committee on Rules has 10 days to refer the Articles of Impeachment before the House floor or plenary after receiving the impeachment complaint.
The House, which only holds plenary sessions from Monday to Wednesday, only has seven session days left before it goes on Holy Week break.
“We have the power to impeach, and included in that power is [determining]when to impeach. If I see that there is a legitimate challenge to the validity of her appointment, than I would have to wait for that,” Fariñas told reporters.
“Besides, I have to review it (impeachment complaint) within that 10 days [before sending it to plenary consideration],” Fariñas added.
Fariñas differed from House justice panel chief Rep. Reynaldo Umali, who said on Monday that impeachment proceedings and the quo warranto petition could proceed simultaneously.
“[If we proceed now], the Supreme Court [decision on quo warranto]could overtake our impeachment proceedings,” Fariñas said.
“The earliest this [impeachment complaint]can reach the plenary is May 14 [when we return from Holy Week break],” Fariñas added.
Opposition lawmakers Edcel Lagman of Albay, Edgar Erice of Caloocan City and Gary Alejano of Magdalo party-list said Fariñas’ position was a scheme to gang up against Sereno.
“The House should not surrender its sole authority to impeach, unless they already have an advance information on the Supreme Court’s looming decision on that quo warranto petition. It could be that, or their statements could have inspired the petition filed by Calida. That’s collusion,” Lagman said in a separate interview.
Erice said: “It only shows that they are not confident that the charges against the Chief Justice will not hold ground.”
Alejano said those itching to oust Sereno sans impeachment should realize that a quo warranto proceeding could also be used against them in the future.
“They want the Supreme Court to preempt the power of the House to impeach and the justices to decide on the culpability of the chief justice. They should be careful. They should remember that the composition of the House depends on who is the sitting President. When the time comes, the same weapon can be used against them,” he said.
Vice President Maria Leonor Robredo is opposed to the quo warranto petition filed by Solicitor General Calida.
“This is alarming because the Constitution is clear here: the only way to remove a Supreme Court justice is through impeachment. The impeachment proceedings are underway,” Robredo, a lawyer, told reporters after a visit to Marawi City.
No looming crisis – Palace
Malacañang on Tuesday allayed fears of a possible constitutional crisis because of the quo warranto proceedings.
“No, it is impossible that there will be a constitutional crisis because it is the executive branch that enforces. The President will not allow a constitutional crisis,” Roque said during a news conference.
“Let’s trust the President who has been trusted by the biggest majority of Filipinos in the past 28 years,” he added.
Roque made the assurance after Ako Bicol party-list Rep. Rodel Batocabe warned of a constitutional crisis if the Supreme Court decides to remove Sereno and the House does not acknowledge it.
WITH LLANESCA T. PANTI AND CATHERINE S. VALENTE