Junking or its equivalence in real life effect, voiding, has been one of the most often used words in public statements lately. Junking was how the recent action of the House Committee on Justice was described as its members, by a 23-1 vote with no abstention, struck down the impeachment case filed by five House members led by Albay Representative Edcel Lagman against the seven justices who voted to oust then Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno from the Supreme Court on quo warranto.
In rejecting the complaint as insufficient in substance, the committee headed by Oriental Mindoro Representative Salvador “Doy” Leachon, noted that the requirements for such a finding was not met. Some members said, for example, that the critical finding of a factual and proper recital of facts constituting the alleged offense of betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the Constitution were not there.
That the complaint was more of a political stunt than a serious effort to bring the justices to account for their action was exposed by Reps. Rodante Marcoleta and Henry Oaminal who both noted that the so-called recital of facts was more opinionated and speculative, and more political than legal.
Another member, Rep. Alfredo Garbin, insisted that indeed the complaint did not meet the standard required for impeachment. “At the onset,” Garbin said, “for culpable violation of the Constitution to prosper it should be shown that there was a deliberate and wrongful breach of the basic law when the justices acted upon and ruled on the quo warranto case versus Sereno.”
Quoting San Beda University Dean of the Graduate School of Law, Fr. Ranhilio Aquino, Garbin noted that “there is nothing culpable in the actions of the justices in exercising their constitutionally mandated responsibility to exercise original jurisdiction over the petitions for quo warranto as stated in Section 5, Article VIII of the Constitution.”
Indeed, it should be clear that the justices acted on the case and voted in accordance with how they viewed the law on the matter at hand. They voted in accordance with their best lights. There should be nothing wrong with that. There was a case before them. They had to vote on it, one way or the other. Otherwise, not voting at all even if by abstention would have been a far more serious breach than voting in accordance with their reading of the Constitution and the law.
It will be noted that the seven justices (actually eight, including now Ombudsman Samuel Martires) voted to oust Sereno based on a finding and the admission of the ousted chief herself that indeed she failed to comply with the requirements of the SALN Law. That fact was never controverted by Sereno and her lawyers.
They insisted that at least she was able to show some of her SALNs while teaching at the UP and and serving as clerk for Justice Florentino Feliciano, her mentor. She and her lawyers should have stopped at that assertion. But no. They proceeded to debate with themselves whether a quo warranto case would prosper at all.
In any event, Sereno herself tried to obfuscate and justify this error by insisting that a) hers was a case of simple negligence done in good faith and b) anyway, the 1987 Constitution clearly stated that an impeachable official like herself can only be removed from office by impeachment and no other mode.
Well, the majority found such argumentation of no moment. They convincingly argued that, yes, impeachment was the proper mode of removal of an impeachable official if the same is legitimately occupying his or her position. Otherwise, there is another mode of removal if it can be proven that indeed the position holder was not qualified to occupy the position at all. That’s where the quo warranto clause came in. Sereno was ousted by her peers. Her holding of the position was void ab initio. Her staying there was voidable.
Which brings us the word “voiding.” As in what President Duterte did with the amnesty extended to Senator Antonio Trillanes IV by the Aquino administration in 2011. In almost the same way that Sereno’s staying as Chief Justice was questioned for having been illegally done, Trillanes’ amnesty has now been voided for having been illegally issued. The back-and-forth arguments are so similar one need not even look back to see where the divide is. But in here, things have become more political.
Thus, if one is a Duterte Diehard Supporter, the argument is that Trillanes is holding the position illegally as he did not comply with all the requirements for amnesty, procedural or otherwise, which in their view is non-negotiable at all. On the other hand, those who are against the President will forever challenge his every move and every utterance. In this instance, he is, take your pick; 1) persecuting the opposition; 2) introducing creeping authoritarianism and 3) diverting the people’s attention from their basic concerns, i.e., affordable food, moderate increases in health services, power/water, etc.
Those arguments are, of course, par for the course. However, as far as the amnesty of Trillanes and company, for example, those will remain debating points. That’s it. Nothing will be solved even if the debates end and the countdown on Trillanes’ stay at the Senate starts ticking.
Only a full resolution of the cases filed before the courts—from the Supreme Court to the RTCs and even the AFP court martial—will somehow put a closure to the cases surrounding the acts of Trillanes and his military cohorts since they took over the Oakwood Hotel in 2003.
So, let the hearings begin and let the judges and the justices at the final stretch, act with the cases with all deliberate dispatch. We just have to ensure that there will be no sword of Damocles hanging over their heads as they interpret the law and hand their ruling like the decidedly politicized one filed by Lagman and company.