MALACAñANG admitted that ousted Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno could still file a Motion for Reconsideration considering the slim margin of two votes that expelled the country’s top magistrate from her post through the quo warranto petition filed against her.
Presidential Chief Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo said that under the law, Sereno was entitled to file an MR, since the margin between those who voted in favor and against was only two votes.
"There is still a chance. There have been instances when the Supreme Court reversed itself," he said.
"Considering the slim margin of the vote, only one Justice needs to change his mind and that will result in an even (7-7). So Justice Sereno still has a chance," Panelo added.
Eight were in favor and six have opposed. Sereno's spokesman Carlo Cruz said the former chief magistrate would file a motion for reconsideration.
At the Supreme Court, Associate Justice Alfredo Caguioa wrote in his dissenting opinion the Court had committed “seppuku—without honor” when it yielded to the “prodding” of the Solicitor General Jose Calida’s quo warranto petition to oust Sereno through a move that “sidestepped” the Constitution.
In his 64-page dissent, Caguioa pointed out how the Court allowed Calida’s petition and oust the Chief Justice on its own, without any constitutional basis, (which) was a “greater disservice” to the country, and stressed the SC justices should not allow themselves “to be used” by “a mere agency of a separate coordinate department.”
“I view with deep shame and regret this day when the Court has ousted one of its sitting Members upon the prodding of a mere agency of a separate coordinate department,” Caguioa said.
“The other members of the Court—the Court en banc—are called upon to grin and bear the unbearable as travelling this prohibited road will be at the expense and to the extreme prejudice of the independence of the entire Judiciary, the independence of the Court’s individual members, and the freedom of discourse within the Court,” he added.
“This case marks the time when the Court commits seppuku-without honor,” he stressed.
Seppuku is sometimes referred to as harakiri in English which means “cutting (the) belly”—a Japanese practice of committing suicide to regain one’s honor.
In a radio interview, Panelo said the former chief justice still had a big chance to regain her post should one of the justices change mind and side with Sereno, which would turn the decision to a tie.
Panelo, former legal adviser of Duterte as Davao City mayor, however, doubts the decision would change because eight had already granted the petition filed by the Solicitor General that cited Sereno had committed a culpable violation of the Constitution as well as the SALN law.
Panelo also believed there were two ways to remove a public official, and the other was through the impeachment process, which is under the Constitution.
“Public officials like the president, members of the Supreme Court, and officers of the Constitutional bodies can be removed through impeachment and conviction based on the grounds like treason, betrayal of the public trust, graft and corruption, bribery, high crimes. Iyon lamang ang grounds na puwede mong tanggalin iyong mga impeachable officers,” Panelo said.
“While said grounds that are not applicable to an impeachable officer like a Chief Justice, but violates certain rules and regulations such as failure to submit like the SALN, which is one of the requirements for the appointed official, there is another way to remover him or her through Quo Warranto,” Panelo explained.
“Because her appointment was illegal. That is precisely why there is another process which you can remove—the quo warranto, where those who are not qualified can be removed,” he said.
The Supreme Court on Friday ousted Sereno after eight justices voted in favor of Calida’s quo warranto petition which sought to nullify her appointment in 2012 for allegedly failing to submit her Statements of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth, as required in the application process.
Caguioa was among the six justices who voted against Sereno’s ouster, along with Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, and Associate Justices Presbitero Velasco, Jr., Mariano del Castillo, and Estela Perlas Bernabe.
He said the filing of Calida of quo warranto petition appeared to be an admission that the grounds for impeachment was weak.
“The filing by the Solicitor General of the present quo warranto petition to oust the Chief Justice appears to be an admission on the part of the Executive department that the grounds for impeachment, including the ground upon which this quo warranto petition is based, rest on shaky grounds,” Caguioa said.
He added that with the weak ground to impeachment, Calida “effectively shopped a different forum” to seek the Chief Justice’s ouster.
“This is not a road less travelled—it is a prohibited alleyway that, regrettably, the Court is now allowing passage through,” he added.
He said the petition filed by Calida was unconstitutional as the chief justice and other impeachable officials might only be removed through impeachment.
But the majority had said a quo warranto plea was a valid remedy to ensure that “only qualified individuals” hold public office.
He claimed that what had been shown in the hearings before the Committee on Justice in the House of Representatives were all internal matters.
“The acts complained of, including the alleged failure to submit SALNs, are actionable under existing laws—provided the respondent is first impeached following settled and unequivocal jurisprudence,” he added.
“No matter how dislikable a member of the Court is, the rules cannot be changed just to get rid of him, or her in this case,” he said.
“The Court’s inability to resolve this leadership issue within its own walls and the need to ventilate these matters before another forum is a disservice to the institution and to the individual members of the Court. For the Court to now turn around and oust the Chief Justice on its own, without any constitutional basis, is an even greater disservice,” he added.
Associate Justice Marvic Mario Victor Leonen dubbed Sereno’s ouster as a “legal abomination” that should not have been entertained by the High Court.
“This Petition should have been dismissed outright and not given due course. It does not deserve space in judicial deliberation within our constitutional democratic space,” Leonen said in his 64-page dissenting opinion.
“Even if the Chief Justice has failed our expectation, quo warranto, as a process to oust an impeachable officer and a sitting member of the Supreme Court, is a legal abomination,” he added.
Leonen warned of the precedent the landmark decision set—a “grave” diminishing of judicial independence and a “threat” to the SC’s ability to assert Filipinos’ fundamental rights.
“We render this Court subservient to an aggressive Solicitor General. We render those who prevent dissenting opinions unnecessarily vulnerable to powerful interests,” he said.
Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio’s, in his 25-page dissenting opinion, for his part said the SC was wrong to remove Sereno by upholding a quo warranto plea.
He said that Sereno committed lapses when she failed to submit all the requirements when she applied as top magistrate but stressed that the judiciary did not have the power to remove any impeachable official from office.
“No court, not even this Court, can assume the exclusive mandate of Congress to remove impeachable officers from office,” he said.
Carpio indicated the high tribunal rewrote the 1987 Constitution when it granted the quo warranto case Solicitor General Jose Calida filed to seek Sereno’s removal from the helm of the Supreme Court.
“If a court finds that an impeachable officer has committed an impeachable act, the court should refer the matter to Congress, for Congress to exercise its exclusive mandate to remove from office impeachable officers,” Carpio said.
Associate Justice Mariano del Castillo’s dissenting opinion also slammed the Solicitor General for “urging” the High Court to veer away from the Constitution.
“In instituting this quo warranto proceeding, the SolGen urges this Court to take the road not taken. I am not inclined to take part in any constitutional adventurism, and I intend to remain within the clearly confined course that the framers of our Constitution have delineated,” del Castillo said.
Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr. said the issue of Sereno’s missing SALNs should have been raised when she was first nominated as Supreme Court justice.
“No one, however, raised or challenged respondent’s integrity when she was first included in the list of nominees to a post in this Court in 2010. And again, when she was nominated for appointment to the Office of the Chief Justice in 2012, no one questioned her qualifications,” Velasco said.
Associate Justice Estela Perlas-Bernabe said the decision might have tipped off the balance of powers guaranteed by the Constitution.
The vote against Sereno gave the Solicitor General a pass to question the decisions of the Judicial and Bar Council, supposed to be “a separate constitutional organ which functions as a check on the President’s power of appointment,” Perlas-Bernabe said.
“To allow a direct resort to quo warranto would amount to bypassing the JBC, and in consequence, render vulnerable the integrity of the Judiciary as an institution,” she said.
“Indeed, it could not have been intended that the OSG could simply come in at any time and ask the Supreme Court to re-assess the subjective qualifications of any Judiciary appointee when the same had already been determined by the body specifically created therefore,” she added.
The law states that Sereno has 15 days to file a motion for reconsideration before the high court’s decision becomes final.
“Whether I’m optimistic or pessimistic or whatever chances I have, I will have to make my next move,” Sereno said Friday.
Meanwhile, reactions from some sectors rippled one day after Sereno’s ouster.
• Human Rights Watch Asian Division researcher Carlos Conde said in his statement the reason why Sereno was ousted was not only because of her failure to file or misplaced her SALN when she was a law professor but also due to her criticism against President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody war against drugs.
Conde cited Duterte’s statement in April when he declared Sereno an “enemy” and called for her impeachment for her criticism of the President’s murderous war on drugs and other abusive policies.
“Sereno’s ouster also kicks open the door for wanton removals of members of other constitutional bodies, such as the Commission on Human Rights,” he said.
• Novaliches Bishop Emeritus Teodoro Bacani, one of the 50 appointed by then President Corazon Aquino to write the 1987 Constitution—a rewrite of the 1973 Constitution led by former President Diosdado Macapagal—said in a radio interview Sereno’s ouster was a clear violation of the charter.
“It is a sad day for democracy in the Philippines and it is a very sad day for the Supreme Court,” the bishop said in an interview with Radio Veritas.
He pointed out the constitution provided a clear order that the chief justice, like the president, could only be removed through impeachment.
• Sereno’s son Joren assured his mother she would have a “happy mother’s day” despite her removal.
“Today I stand in the right, though the Court says otherwise. Today I stand with CJ. I stand with my mother. You will have a happy mother’s day mom, guaranteed,” Joren, who worked in the Supreme Court for five years, said.
He also thanked all people who have reached out and extended their support to his mother.
“This was never about the position, but principle,” he said.
“When you hold fast onto principles, by its very nature the ones to whom these things are negotiable will respond. Viciously. Violently,” he added.
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