In the end, Maria Lourdes P.A. Sereno brought down Maria Lourdes P.A. Sereno.
The issue against her is in Section 3 Article VIII of the Constitution—“A member of the Judiciary must be a person of proven competence, integrity, probity, and independence.”
On Friday, May 11, 2018, the Supreme Court, voting 8-6, ousted Sereno as chief justice of the land by granting the quo warranto petition of Solicitor General Jose Calida to remove her because she was not qualified to be chief justice in the first place. The ground for her removal is damning. She lacks integrity. She lacked integrity at the time of her appointment as justice in Aug. 13, 2010, and her appointment as chief justice on Aug. 24, 2012.
She lacks integrity because she failed to file her Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) in 11 years (1986, 1987, 1988, 1992, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006), of the 20 years she was teaching at the state University of the Philippines College of Law. SALN is required of all government workers, except casual workers and laborers.
Also, the Supreme Court said Sereno may be held liable “for disbarment for violating the sub judice rule by repeatedly discussing the merits of the quo warranto petition in different fora and for casting aspersions and ill motives to the members of the court even before a decision is made, designed to affect the results of the Court’s collegial vote and influence public opinion. This wrongful actuation exemplify a poor regard for the judicial system and may amount to conduct unbecoming of a Justice and a lawyer.”
Sereno even claimed the quo warranto was a plot by President Duterte and would destroy Philippine democracy.
The Court said it can no longer tolerate Sereno’s “public actuation showing disdain and contempt towards some members of the Court.”
The youngest chief justice of the land, Sereno, 57, is the first chief justice to be ousted by her own peers.
The decision found Sereno repeatedly lying about her SALNs and even misleading the Judicial and Bar Council, which nominated her as chief justice in July 2012, about the non-existence of her SALNs (she claimed it was “infeasible” to locate them).
The high court tried to resolve three issues:
1. Whether the Court can assume jurisdiction and give due course to the instant petition for quo warranto against respondent who is an impeachable officer and against whom an impeachment complaint has already been filed with the House of Representatives. Yes.
2. Whether the petition is outrightly dismissible on the ground of prescription. No. The government has no prescription when it complains with a quo warranto.
3. Whether respondent is eligible for the position of Chief Justice. No.
Though the vote for quo warranto was 8-6, there was perceived dislike for Sereno among her Supreme Court colleagues.
On the third issue (the eligibility of Sereno as chief justice), the vote is actually 9, not 8. Senior Justice Antonio Carpio disagreed that quo warranto was not the remedy to remove Sereno. It is impeachment.
The most senior justice, Carpio considers Sereno guilty of culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust, two grounds to impeach a justice of the Supreme Court.
Thus, the Senate should impeach Sereno and remove her. Carpio agrees with the view that “culpable violation of the Constitution implies ‘deliberate intent, perhaps even a certain degree of perversity… to defy knowingly what the Constitution commands.’”
Betrayal of public trust refers to acts “less than criminal but must be attended by bad faith and of such gravity and seriousness as the other grounds for impeachment.”
Another dissenter, Justice Presbiterio Velasco, thinks the Judicial and Bar Council, not the High Court, should be the one to disqualify Sereno as chief justice by nullifying her nomination thru a petition for certiorari. The JBC, under the Constitution and by law, screens candidates for justice and chief justice, and thus establishes aspirants’ integri That should make the vote against Sereno 10-4.
Justice Marvic Leonen also dissented against the grant of quo warranto which he calls “a legal abomination,” “even if the Chief Justice has failed our expectations.” He argued for impeachment in removing impeachable officials.
In his 64-page dissent, Leonen suggests one alternative for Sereno – “to have the grace and humility to resign for her office to protect the institution from a leadership which may not have succeeded to address the divisiveness and the weaknesses within.”
Leonen also didn’t like Sereno showing up for work at the Supreme Court on May 8, 2018, ending her indefinite leave, “without the court’s approval en banc.” “For a party to do everything in her power to undermine the Court for fear of an adverse result not only judicial courtesy but also our professional responsibilities as a lawyer,” Leonen points out.
The tribunal dismissed Sereno’s claim that she filed her SALNs, “only that she has no records of the same.” “It is, however, too shallow and impetuous for this Court to accept such excuse and disregard the overwhelming evidence to the contrary,” sneered the decision.
The Court conclusively established that “for the years 1986, 1987, 1988, 1992, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006, respondent (Sereno) did not file her SALNs.”
Sereno not only violated the Constitution and laws of the land by her habitually not filing her SALNs, she also proved that by her failure, she lacked integrity.
Because integrity is a basic qualification for a justice and a chief justice of the Supreme Court, the high court thus found her not qualified to be a chief justice from the very beginning. She is a usurper to the position and thus must be removed immediately.