Top govt lawyer to file quo warranto petition vs chief justice
The Solicitor General is poised to ask the Supreme Court on Monday to oust Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, who is the subject of impeachment proceedings at the House of Representatives.
The chief government lawyer will file with the high court today, Monday, a petition for quo warranto questioning the qualifications and eligibility of Sereno for the position of chief justice.
The Office of the Solicitor General wants Sereno ousted for her failure to file her Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Networth (SALN) as required by law.
The Manila Times obtained a copy of the petition dated March 5, 2018 to be filed with the high court by Solicitor General Jose Calida.
“Petitioner Republic of the Philippines consequently prays that this Honorable Court: (1) DECLARE as void Maria Lourdes P.A. Sereno’s appointment on August 24, 2012 as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines; and (2) OUST Maria Lourdes P.A. Sereno from the position of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines,” the petition read.
The Office of the Solicitor General argued that while Sereno is an impeachable officer, Rule 66 of the Rules of Court on Quo Warranto gives government lawyers the authority to question a void and defective appointment.
“The petition for quo warranto against Respondent should be differentiated from the impeachment proceedings against her at the House of Representatives. The writ of quo warranto is being sought to question the validity of her appointment; in turn, the impeachment complaint accuses her of committing culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust while in office. Stated differently, the petitioner is seeking her ouster from her office because she did not prove her integrity as an applicant for the position. The complainant in the impeachment proceedings wants her removed as the sitting Chief Justice for impeachable offenses,” the OSG said.
It cited the 2010 Rules of the Presidential Electoral Tribunal wherein the high court itself allows the filing of an election protest or quo warranto proceedings against an impeachable officer like the president or the vice president of the Philippines.
“Although the aforecited rules pertain to the President and Vice President, said rules may be applied by analogy. The Court recognizes the availability of quo warranto against an impeachable officer. In other words, Respondent cannot claim that as Chief Justice, she can only be removed by impeachment under Section 2, Article XI of the Constitution,” it added.
The OSG also cited the landmark case of Funa vs Villar wherein the promotion of Commission on Audit Commissioner Antonio Villar was declared illegal; as well as the case of Nacionalista Party vs De Vera, wherein the SC ruled that “a quo warranto proceeding and not prohibition is the proper remedy to inquire into validity of the appointment of then Commission on Elections Chairman Vicente De Vera.”
The OSG maintained that the filing of the petition was within the 1-year period mandated by law since the period started from the time of discovery: when Sereno’s alleged transgression were exposed at the House of Representatives.
The OSG pointed out that the framers of the 1987 Constitution placed the “moral provision” to ensure that a member of the judiciary must “be a person of proven competence, integrity, probity and independence.”
It argued that Sereno lacks integrity because she violated the rules of the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) when she did not file her SALN within the 10-year mandated period.
“Such ineligibility means that she is unlawfully holding the position of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, even as she was ostensibly recommended by the Judicial and Bar Council under Section 8(5), Article VIII of the 1987 Constitution,” it said.
“(T)he invalidity of Respondent’s appointment as Chief Justice was exposed in view of her failure to submit her SALNs for several years from 1986 to 2006 when she was a professor at the UP College of Law. It was discovered that aside from her SALNs for the years 2006, 2009, 2010, and 2011 which she submitted in her applications for Associate Justice and Chief Justice, Respondent only filed SALNs for the years 1998, 2002, and 2006 during her tenure as law professor at the UP College of Law from 1986 up to 2006. Respondent was nominated to the positions of Associate Justice and Chief Justice despite her failure to file her SALNs which were required to determine whether she passed the constitutional requirement of integrity,” the OSG said.
Thus, it said Sereno is a usurper for she lacks the “integrity” mandated by law.
“As Respondent’s unlawful omissions transpired prior to her appointment as an Associate Justice and, later on, as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines, it cannot be said that, at the time of her appointment to the positions, she possessed the integrity demanded of aspiring members of the Judiciary. The failure to comply with the SALN requirement in Section 7 of R.A. No. 3019 is penalized with fine, or imprisonment, and is considered sufficient cause for the removal or dismissal of a public officer. Even without the penalties being imposed on Respondent, her violation of the SALN requirement meant that she did not pass the requirement of integrity,” it said.
Rep. Rey Umali, chairman of the justice panel that is handling the impeachment case against Sereno, said the chief justice should resign to end the division at the high court.
Umali said it is puzzling that Sereno should insist on staying when majority of her colleagues at the high court clearly resent her.
Among the justices who testified against Sereno at the House of Representatives were Teresita de Castro, Francis Jardeleza, Noel Tijam and Samuel Martires.
“From the very start that we conducted hearings, we have heard the testimony from her colleagues and it showed that the Supreme Court is divided. Justices [Marvic] Leonen, [Estela] Perlas Bernabe and [Antonio Carpio] did not testify but they provided us documents which serve as evidence that something is wrong under her watch,” Umali said in a radio interview.
“The revelation of the divided Supreme Court is an output of the impeachment proceedings. And 13 justices voted to force her to go on an indefinite leave. That’s why I don’t see the reason why the Chief Justice is insisting on her right to remain in her post,” Umali added.
“Her colleagues were unanimous [in moving for her indefinite leave, and consider this: these justices are her family; her children and she is the mother. They hate their mother. And yet she wants to drag the entire judiciary, the nation down…because of her insistence [to stay in her post],” he said.
Sereno on Friday said that she should be given her day in court so that she could clear herself. In the impeachment complaint filed by lawyer Larry Gadon, the chief justice was accused of betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the Constitution for granting allowances and other perks to herself and her staff; preventing lower court justices from issuing warrant of arrest against Sen. Leila de Lima; acquiring a P9 million bulletproof luxury car; failure to declare P37 million of her lawyer’s fees as a government counsel in her wealth statement and manipulating the JBC shortlist for personal and political reasons.
Umali said the psychological report on Sereno could also be included in the articles of impeachment.
Geraldine Tria, a psychologist who testified during a closed-door session of the Umali’s justice committee, said Sereno is suffering from a significant mental disturbance.
“She does not deserve the office. She got away with it in the JBC [level]and now, the Supreme Court is suffering from that,” Umali said.
Sereno’s spokesperson Josa Deinla said the Chief Justice is determined to defend herself before a Senate impeachment court.
“The Chief Justice’s call is clear. She wants her day in court and she will be ready to prove that the allegations against her are baseless,” Deinla said.
“We trust the Senate that they will recognize her right to a fair trial,” she added.
WITH LLANESCA T. PANTI