Sereno’s appeal for fairness

“This is essentially a plea to the honorable court to do what is right and just,” ousted Supreme Court Chief Justice Sereno appeals to her former colleagues in her 207-page Motion for Reconsideration (MR) to reverse the decision of 11 May 2018.

Basically, the MR raises five grounds for reconsideration.

First, Sereno is of the belief that she was deprived of her fundamental right to due process, hence null and void. Second, the decision is contrary to the Constitution, as the Court had no jurisdiction to oust an impeachable official via quo warranto. Third, the Court seriously erred in annulling the official act of the Judicial and Bar Council and the president absent any allegation of grave abuse of discretion. Fourth, assuming quo warranto is initially available, the same is now time barred. Lastly, assuming the Court has jurisdiction, the decision is contrary to law and jurisprudence. The Chief Justice was and is a person of proven integrity.

Sereno argues that six of the eight justices that granted the quo warranto ought to have inhibited themselves in the case as there were compelling grounds to believe that they were impartial. Their continued participation constitute a denial of due process. She insists that the disqualification of the six justices, who were subjected of separate motions for inhibition, is mandatory, grounded on actual bias and prejudice and not mere participation in the House committee hearings. She then narrated that the concerned justices had issued pronouncements and made actuations, not only because they participated in the House Committee hearings, which would show their actual bias. She then draws attention to the Sec. 1 Rule 8 of the Internal Rule of the Supreme Court concerning compulsory grounds for inhibition, Rule 3.12, Canon 3 of the 1987 Code of Judicial Responsibility and the New Code of Conduct for the Philippine Judiciary particularly Section 5, Canon 3 thereof which also constitute as grounds for compulsory inhibition of a judge. She then states that the majority failed to refute this actual bias on the part of Justices De Castro and Jardeleza and did not address other grounds for mandatory inhibition present in the case of Justices De Castro and Peralta when the Court has required inhibition of trial court judges for far lesser reasons.

Moreover, Chief Justice Sereno decries the majority’s action to take cognizance of extraneous matters as corroborative evidence of respondent’s supposed lack of integrity. Sereno cites several instances of this error and insists that the additional issues resolved by the Court were never raised by the OSG in his pleadings. Moreover, according to her, the decision itself states that the Court has no jurisdiction over matters committed by impeachable officials after assumption of office. By imposing on her the penalty of removal, the majority encroached upon the power of impeachment which rightly belongs to Congress. The majority also violated respondent’s right to be presumed innocent when they accorded evidentiary weight to the impeachment charges against her. Thus, the petition is ultimately based on disputed questions of fact which could not have been validly resolved by the Court without observing the mandatory procedure for reception of evidence.

On the second ground, Sereno posits that the decision is contrary to the Constitution. Citing respected constitutionalists such as Fr. Joaquin Bernas SJ and former Chief Justice Hilario Davide, she argues that impeachable officials can only be removed via impeachment and not by any other means. That impeachment is the only way to remove these officials is evidenced by the deliberations of the 1986 Concom and expressed by its members. Further, jurisprudence prior to the 11 May 2018 decision impeachment is the exclusive manner of removal. Contrary to the majority opinion, the word “may” does not denote an alternative to impeachment citing Gonzales v. Office of the President. Besides, according to her, statutes providing for removal of officers must be construed. Hence, the constitutional provision on the same subject must be construed more strictly, especially in this case where there is no serious doubt as to the contemporary understanding and intention to make the mode exclusive, not to mention that the reasons and public policy behind impeachment such as separation of powers and judicial independence, negate any other mode of removal.

Sereno further stresses that a difficult process deliberately chosen by the Constitution cannot be substituted with an expedient procedure such as a quo warranto. Contrary to the majority view, even assuming that respondent is a de facto officer, she can only be removed through impeachment for the reason that the constitution does not distinguish between de jure and de factor for purposes of impeachment. Sereno said that it would have been more prudent for the Court to act with judicial restraint to avoid a constitutional crisis as its decision puts its place in a collision course with the Senate. She insists that the Republic is guilty of forum shopping because both the quo warranto and impeachment complaints carry the same charge, i.e. respondent’s supposed lack of proven integrity for her failure to submit her SALNs. The quo warranto petition was filed in anticipation of an unfavorable ruling by the Senate in an impeachment proceedings. The OSG filed the petition to secure a conviction which it could otherwise not do in an impeachment trial. Willful and deliberate violation of the rule on forum shopping is a ground for dismissal of the case.

In the decision the majority ruled that by filing separate motions for inhibition she had voluntary submitted herself to the jurisdiction of the Court, a ruling which respondent disagrees. According to her, respondent raised objections to the Court’s jurisdiction over the subject matter and not the lack of jurisdiction over her person. And this she has consistently raised and maintained at the earliest opportunity.

I will continue my summary of Chief Justice Sereno’s Motion for Reconsideration in the next column.

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Topics: Maria Lourdes Sereno , Chief Justice , Supreme Court , Rodrigo Duterte , Quo Warrato
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