Sereno doomed by non-filing  of SALN — insider

EVEN if the Supreme Court had granted the plea of ousted Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno to dismiss the quo warranto petition against her, there is no way she would have survived an impeachment trial before the Senate, a Court insider said Sunday.

“Granting that the Supreme Court dismissed the quo warranto petition against CJ Sereno, there is no way she can win an impeachment trial because the SC itself already found her of violating the Constitution for not filing the statement of assets, liabilities and networth [SALN],” the source said.

Although the vote on the quo warranto petition was 8-6, a separate vote established that nine of the 14 justices found that Sereno had violated the Constitution by failing to file the proper SALNs.

“This is a clearly a ground for her impeachment for committing a culpable violation of the Constitution,” the source said.

“Even if she [Sereno] won the quo warranto case, her ouster is inevitable. She’ll only be prolonging her agony.”

Maria Lourdes Sereno
A former president of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, Tranquil Salvador III, agreed, saying the Court’s finding that Sereno violated the Constitution would even restrict senators sitting as judges in an impeachment trial to make a contrary ruling.

“In the event of impeachment trial, the finding of the Supreme Court that she failed to file her SALN can be used as grounds to impeach her,” Salvador said.

On Friday, the SC voted 8-6 to grant the quo warranto petition filed by Solicitor General Jose Calida and ordered the ouster of Sereno after finding her “guilty of unlawfully holding and exercising the office of the chief justice” since her appointment in 2012.

The justices who voted that Sereno committed s culpable violation of the Constitution were Associate Justices Noel Tijam, Teresita Leonardo-Castro, Lucas Bersamin, Francis Jardeleza, Diosdado Peralta, Andres Reyes Jr., Samuel Martires, and Alexander Gesmundo.

The Court insider said the prosecutors of the House of Representatives would have needed to merely file a judicial notice or manifestation before the Senate that the majority of the magistrates had already found Sereno guilty of violating the Constitution.

 “Had Sereno opted to resign prior to the vote on the quo warranto case, she could have retained her unblemished judicial career,” the source said.

“With the SC ruling granting the quo warranto petition against her, Sereno’s record as top magistrate will be expunged, since she was found disqualified from and adjudged guilty of unlawfully holding and exercising the office of the chief justice,” the source added.

In its decision written by Tijam, the Court said that no constitutional crisis could arise from the ouster of Sereno outside of impeachment because the Constitution has provided a mechanism on how to resolve conflicts between the branches of government.

“Thus, there can be no constitutional crisis where the Constitution itself provides the means and bases for the resolution of the ‘conflict,’” the 153-page ruling said..

“To reiterate, the Court’s exercise of jurisdiction over an action for quo warranto falls within the ambit of its judicial power to settle justiciable issues or actual controversies involving rights which are legally demandable and enforceable,” the Court said.

According to the tribunal, it exercised “original jurisdiction” over quo warranto cases, along with petitions for certiorari, prohibition, mandamus, and habeas corpus, according to Article VIII of the 1987 Constitution. 

Sereno had sought the dismissal of the quo warranto petition against her, arguing that the SC lacked jurisdiction over the case. Being an impeachable officer, Sereno said, she can only be removed from office through impeachment and conviction in Congress.

But the Court said assuming there would be an impeachment trial at the Senate was “speculation.”

“Clearly, an outright dismissal of the petition based on speculation that respondent will eventually be tried on impeachment is a clear abdication of the Court’s duty to settle actual controversy squarely presented before it,” the Court said. “Indeed, the easiest way to lose power is to abdicate it.”

The tribunal pointed out that the “possibility” of a constitutional crisis was no reason for the it to “abandon its positive constitutional duty” to take cognizance of a case it can decide.

The Court also said it was “not arrogating upon itself” the power of Congress to discern whether or not an impeachable officer may be removed by impeachment.

“Quo warranto proceedings are essentially judicial in character—it calls for the exercise of the Supreme Court’s constitutional duty and power to decide cases and settle actual controversies,” the high court ruled.

“This constitutional duty cannot be abdicated or transferred in favor of, or in deference to, any other branch of the government including the Congress, even as it acts as an impeachment court through the Senate.”

Reneging on this duty and failing to performs its judicial power would “amount to culpable violation of the Constitution,” the SC ruling said.

A dissenter, Associate Justice Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa, said that the Supreme Court committed a form of dishonorable suicide when it ousted Sereno through quo warranto proceedings.

In his dissenting opinion, Caguioa branded the decision granting the quo warranto petition of the solicitor general and invalidating Sereno’s appointment to the top judicial post in 2012 as “seppuku” but “without honor.”

“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... This case marks the time when the Court commits seppuku - without honor,” Caguioa said, in his 64-page opinion.

He agreed with the argument of Sereno that she could only be removed through impeachment in Congress and not through quo warranto proceedings.

“Traveling 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 said.

Caguioa, an appointee of former President Benigno Aquino III just like Sereno, believed that the quo warranto case was “an admission on the part of the Executive department that the grounds for impeachment... rest on shaky ground.”

“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.

Caguioa was one of the six justices who voted to dismiss the petition filed by Calida.

The other five in the minority vote were Senior Associate Justice Senior Associate Antonio Carpio and Associate Justices Presbitero Velasco Jr., Mariano del Castillo, Estela Bernabe  and Marvic Leonen.

Carpio agreed that the SC has no jurisdiction over the case because only the Congress can oust a sitting magistrate through impeachment process as provided under the 1987 Constitution.

However, the senior magistrate concluded that the ousted Chief Justice was “liable for culpable violations of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust.”

He believed that such a finding could only be “endorsed to the Senate for the impeachment trial.”

“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 in his 25-page dissenting opinion.

“No court, not even this Court, can assume the exclusive mandate of Congress to remove impeachable officers from office,” he said.

With Sereno’s ouster, Carpio will again serve as acting chief justice just as he did in 2012 after the ouster of the late chief justice Renato Corona after impeachment trial in Senate.

Velasco agreed with Carpio’s opinion that the quo warranto petition should be dismissed but based on another ground.

He disagreed with Carpio and believed that Sereno could be covered by quo warranto despite her being an impeachable official.

But in his separate dissenting opinion, Velasco said the SC ruling on Calida’s petition was premature as it still needs trial in court.

Leonen, for his part, said the SC has no power to remove the chief justice and that the petition should have been dismissed outright.

“Even if the Chief Justice has failed our expectations, quo warranto, as a process to oust an impeachable officer and a sitting member of the Supreme Court, is a legal abomination. It creates a precedent that gravely diminishes judicial independence and threatens the ability of the Court to assets the fundamental rights of our people,” he said.

“We render this Court subservient to an aggressive solicitor general. We render those who present dissenting opinions unnecessarily vulnerable to powerful interests,” he warned.

Lastly, Del Castillo slammed Calida for leading the 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,” he added.

In the decision approved by majority of eight justices, the SC held that Sereno’s appointment as the 24th chief justice was null and void because she did not meet the requirement of integrity for such post.

The majority found Sereno’s failure to file her complete statements of assets, liabilities and net worth while teaching law in University of the Philippines and when she applied for the chief justice post as a clear indication of dishonesty and a lack of integrity.

The Court also ruled that the SC has the power to remove Sereno through quo warranto despite her being an impeachable officer and that the case could be resolved independently from the impeachment case before the Congress.

Lastly, the Court explained that the one-year prescription period for quo warranto cases is not applicable to the case against Sereno, which was filed by the solicitor general.

Those who concurred with Tijam’s ruling include Associate Justices Teresita Leonardo - De Castro, Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Francis Jardeleza, Samuel Martires, Andres Reyes Jr. and Alexander Gesmundo.

Apart from Sereno’s ouster, the SC also issued a show cause order requiring her why she should not be penalized for supposedly violating Code of Professional Responsibility and Code of Judicial Conduct “for transgressing the sub juice rule and for casting aspersions and ill motives to the members of the Supreme Court.”

This means she is now facing administrative charges before the SC as a lawyer and not as a member of the Court, which could result in her disbarment.   

Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali, who chairs the House committee on justice, said he would recommend to the House committee on rules’ meeting to stop the impeachment process against Sereno in light of the Court’s verdict.

Topics: Maria Lourdes Sereno , SALN , Supreme Court
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