CHIEF Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno may be removed from her post by her colleagues in the Supreme Court through the quo warranto petition filed by the Office of the Solicitor General, law experts say.
Contrary to Sereno’s argument, the law experts believed that the Court may also acquire jurisdiction over the case to settle the justiciable issue of whether or not the chief justice post is covered by quo warranto proceedings in the Rules of Court despite it being an impeachable position under the Constitution.
Law professors Tranquil Salvador and Butch Jamon, experts in remedial and political law, respectively, believed that the OSG was correct in filing the case before the Supreme Court despite the ongoing impeachment proceedings against Sereno before Congress.
Salvador said in a recent interview that Rule 66 Section 1 (b) of the Rules of Court can apply to Sereno since the OSG’s petition is anchored on the accusation that the Chief Justice failed to file all the required statement of assets, liabilities and net worth when she applied for her post in 2012.
The said provision states that a quo warranto petition may be filed against a public officer “who does or suffers an act which, by the provision of the law, constitutes a ground for the forfeiture of his office.”
“The assumption in the quo warranto petition filed by the OSG is that the appointment was void ab initio or from the beginning. This means that Sereno has been holding the position in de facto status and that she does not enjoy the rights accorded to such position, even including the privilege of being an impeachable official,” said Salvador, who teaches law in Ateneo School of Law and Centro Escolar University College Of Law.
Salvador said the quo warranto petition is actually the more proper remedy to question Sereno’s stay in office than the impeachment case in Congress.
Jamon agreed, saying the quo warranto petition filed by the solicitor general was valid.
“Quo warranto can be filed in the Supreme Court and it is the mandate of the Supreme Court to resolve such [a] petition,” he said.
The professor in De La Salle University College of Law added that such petition is a civil action filed to remove a usurper or an unqualified person from an important government post.
Even former solicitor general Florin Hilbay and Integrated Bar of the Philippines, national president Abdiel Dan Elijah Fajardo, who are both perceived to be defenders of Sereno in the impeachment case against her, agreed that it would be best for the Supreme Court to resolve the quo warranto case.
“The Court is the final arbiter of the Constitution, they have the final say. You might want to disagree with the Supreme Court but they have the final say,” said Hilbay, a constitutional law professor at the University of the Philippines college of law.
“Ultimately, it is the SC that will say what the law is and what rules will apply. Only the current composition can decide whether the Court is going to be passive and exercise judicial restraint, or whether it is going to be an activist court that will set precedent and create another avenue for the removal of a sitting Chief Justice,” added Fajardo in a separate interview.
Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II has issued a similar opinion saying that Sereno may be removed by the Supreme Court through the quo warranto petition filed by OSG.
He explained that while the chief justice is an impeachable official, the Supreme Court has the power to act and resolve a quo warranto petition against her once filed by the proper party.
“If your appointment is void an initio or invalid from the beginning, I believe that a petition for quo warranto will suffice to remove you from your position notwithstanding the fact that you are an impeachable official,” Aguirre said in a text message.
A quo warranto petition challenges the legal basis of one’s appointment and seeks the removal of the respondent from office because of lack of qualification or legal basis to continue holding such office.
In their earlier testimonies before the House panel, Associate Justices Diosdado Peralta and Teresita Leonardo-De Castro slammed the failure of Sereno to meet the 10-year statement of assets, liabilities and net worth requirement during her application for chief justice post to replace the ousted Chief Justice Renato Corona.
Peralta said this development puts into question the legitimacy of Sereno’s appointment as chief justice, which he said could be considered void from the start.
De Castro, for her part, believed that it was “great injustice” for other nominees for the chief justice post knowing that the one appointed by former President Benigno Aquino III was actually not qualified due to incomplete requirements.
Upon discovery of Sereno’s failure to meet the SALN requirement for the chief justice post, the OSG filed the quo warranto petition.
In the petition filed March 5, Solicitor General Jose Calida asked the Court to nullify Sereno’s appointment over ineligibility for the top judicial post and order her removal from office as a de facto official whose authority was allegedly hinged on an appointment that was void from the start.
The solicitor general asserted that Sereno did not meet the specific qualification of proven integrity for the chief justice post with her failure to comply with the required submission of 10-year SALNs.
In her answer filed March 19, Sereno sought the dismissal of the petition and cited technical grounds, particularly the lack of jurisdiction and violation of the one-year prescription period for filing such a case.
Through lawyers led by Alexander Poblador, Sereno argued that the Supreme Court has no jurisdiction and authority to remove her from office because the 1987 Constitution provides that as an impeachable official, she could only be ousted by impeachment in Congress.
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