• Should Chief Justice Sereno stay in office?



    BEFORE the headline topic, one urgent issue: Boracay. It is good to see establishments demolishing illegal structures long encroaching on shore easements or lacking environmental and local government permits.

    Enforcers should ensure that Boracay West Cove is among structures torn down. No less than the Supreme Court ruled in 2014 that the establishment may be demolished, because it was built without permits required by law. If West Cove resists, President Rodrigo Duterte should show he means business by ordering its demolition.

    That’s the rule of law, and it’s long overdue to enforce it in Boracay.

    The case for CJ Sereno
    The law is also at stake in cases against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, along with governance, justice and morality. Hence, it behooves the nation, especially those crying for her ouster, to address the arguments of those wanting her to remain CJ.

    So, let’s look at three arguments widely raised in mass and social media.

    Argument No. 1: The quo warranto petition is unconstitutional, since the Chief Justice can be removed only by impeachment.

    Argument No. 2: The charges and evidence against her do not warrant removal.

    Argument No. 3: If Sereno goes, President Rodrigo Duterte will name a Chief Justice who will swing the Supreme Court behind his authoritarian actions.

    On quo warranto, no less than Senate President Aquilino Pimentel 3rd said CJ Sereno, like other impeachable officials, may be removed only by impeachment. That means a vote to impeach by 30 percent of the House of Representatives, and two-thirds vote of the Senate to convict and oust her.

    The House, however, seems to recognize the validity of the quo warranto petition filed with the high court on Tuesday by Solicitor General Jose Calida. Congressmen will wait until the case is decided before they vote on the Sereno impeachment.

    SolGen Calida has asked the SC, presided by Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio after the CJ went on indefinite leave last week, to declare her appointment invalid. Reason: she lacks qualifications, as determined by the Judicial and Bar Council. The JBC evaluates aspirants for judicial positions, including Chief Justice.

    Assuming the CJ did fail to satisfy JBC requirements (we’ll assess the evidence for that later), is that ground to remove her? Well, if the President or the Vice President, also impeachable officials, were found to have rigged the elections, the SC, sitting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal, could unseat him, because he was not validly elected.

    So, why couldn’t the Supreme Court, if it finds an invalid appointment, oust the Chief Justice, because she was not validly appointed? Not removing her by quo warranto would, in effect, allow and encourage defective postings, which would remain in effect, unless the invalid appointee commits grave offenses, and Congress unseats him.

    In fact, the Calida petition cited past cases — against then-Commission on Elections Chairman Vicente de Vera and ousted Commission on Audit Chairman Reynaldo Villar — in which the high court ruled that impeachable officials could be ousted by quo warranto.

    What about the one-year time limit to file such cases, stipulated in the Rules of Court? Calida argues that this prescription period begins when the appointment defect is discovered, not when the appointee takes office.

    That makes sense. If quo warranto petitions couldn’t be filed after one year in office, then officials would just hide appointment defects for a year, and they’re safe. That’s wrong.

    The charges and the evidence
    Next argument: The alleged defects in appointment and the impeachment charges are flimsy, and the evidence weak.

    In the quo warranto case, Sereno is said to have failed to submit statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALNs) for five of the 10 years required by the JBC: for 2003-2005 and 2007-2008, when she was a University of the Philippines law professor.

    In JBC deliberations on Sereno’s SALNs, Sen. Francis Escudero, then representing Congress, reportedly urged leniency. The CJ herself claimed she misplaced them.

    Yet even the UP personnel office and the Office of the Ombudsman, to which her SALNs should have been given, testified to the House that they had no record of receiving the documents.

    If Sereno didn’t submit two or three statements, leniency might be in order. But lacking half the SALNs seems an inexcusable omission.

    What makes it even harder to excuse is another adjustment of JBC standards. The council nominated Sereno for the highest judicial post even if its psychologists gave her a 4 rating, just one above the psychotic grade of 5, and below the minimum 3 for judges.

    So, is it good for governance and the rule of law that the JBC compromised two key measures of integrity and character in nominating Sereno? If not, the Supreme Court would be justified in declaring her appointment invalid.

    What about the impeachment charges and evidence? They would require more than this whole column to discuss. But we can cover one charge.

    Complainant lawyer Lorenzo Gadon alleged, among other offenses, that CJ Sereno falsified SC resolutions, making it falsely appear they were discussed and approved by the high court en banc. Some justices affirmed this, and no SC staff handling resolutions refuted it.

    That seems evidence enough, but does the charge warrant removal? Well, the Congress equivalent of what Sereno allegedly did is for the Senate President and the House Speaker to send falsified bills to Malacañang for approval, though never deliberated by lawmakers.

    If such an offense is reason to remove congressional leaders, then passing off undiscussed resolutions as approved by the SC is also cause to oust the CJ for usurping collegial decision-making powers vested by the Constitution in the Supreme Court, not the Chief Justice alone.

    On the third argument, Sereno’s tenure shows that the SC does not bow to the President, even if he appointed the CJ. Under her, the Supreme Court unanimously voided pork barrel and the Disbursement Acceleration Program, enraging then-President Benigno Aquino 3rd.

    So, will the magistrates assert their independence under a Chief Justice named by President Duterte.


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