LAWYERS for Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno said Thursday she has recovered nine of her Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net worth (SALNs), the focus of a quo warranto petition before the Supreme Court seeking to void her appointment in 2012.
In separate messages to TV networks, lawyers Josalee Deinla and Jojo Lacanilao said the chief justice had recovered SALNs she filed in 1985, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996 and 1997.
These plus two found with the Office of the Ombudsman bring the total to 11, the lawyers said.
During oral arguments on the quo warranto case filed by Solicitor General Jose Calida, Sereno contested allegations that she did not qualify for the position of chief justice because she failed to submit some of her SALNs as required by law when she applied for the post.
Sereno on Thursday went on the offensive, telling lawyers that the quo warranto petition against here was like “the gathering of dark clouds and of evil foreboding” that would destroy the entire judiciary.
In a speech on Wednesday before the members of the Philippine Bar Association, the oldest voluntary national organization of lawyers, Sereno warned of the damage that a quo warranto against a sitting judge would bring if granted.
A quo warranto is an action that is brought against a government official who is not qualified for his or her position.
Sereno argued that quo warranto does not apply to her because the chief justice is one of the few government officials who can only be removed by impeachment as mandated by the 1987 Constitution.
But retired Supreme Court associate justice Antonio Nachura said quo warranto proceedings can be instituted even to an impeachable official like Sereno to question the right of a public officer to continue holding public office in case of possible irregularities.
“A remedy such as quo warranto should be made available against everybody… even against impeachable officials,” Nachura said in an interview.
He added that it was incorrect to say the outcome of a quo warranto process is removal from office.
“If a public officer is found to hold an invalid title, he is not to be removed—it is as if there was no valid appointment in the first place,” said Nachura, an acknowledged expert on constitutional law.
Nachura did not comment on the merits of the quo warranto petition filed against Sereno, however.
Sereno’s lawyer Alex Poblador, arguing before the Supreme Court Tuesday, warned that the quo warranto petition, if granted would create a dangerous precedent and be used against any sitting justice.
“If they can do this to the chief justice, they can do this to any of you, to your clients,” Sereno told her audience of lawyers.
“If they succeed to remove an impeachable officer nearly six years after her appointment, then any judge in this land and any sitting justice in the highest court will no longer be independent,” she added.
She also said that any case against the government would end up in a settlement because the “sword of Damocles” would be poised over the entire judiciary.
“There cannot be a dissenting justice anymore in the Supreme Court where we are hoping that dissents would be the seeds of future reversals so that jurisprudence can be improved,” Sereno said.
“Even your very livelihoods are threatened, there is no safety for any of you…That is how deadly this quo warranto petition is,” she said.
Sereno said if the Supreme Court would cooperate in the move of the executive to oust her via quo warranto proceedings, rather than impeachment trial before the Senate, it would mean the demise of the entire judiciary and the destruction of the constitutional processes.
“I will use directly the words of Chief Justice Davide that it will be judicial harakiri, if not a judicial kamikaze bringing it the destruction of the entire judiciary as well as the entire constitutional framework,” Sereno said.
The beleaguered top magistrate called on the lawyers to raise a howl against the quo warranto proceedings against her, depicting it is an attempt to destroy the judiciary.
“Are we afraid that we will be called names? Are we afraid that some of our clients might find themselves under harassment as well? This is not the time to keep your silence. What are you trying to preserve? Do you think that silence will improve the situation?” she asked.
“Do you think that by not speaking when you see evil inflicted in your country, you will be safe? When the gathering clouds are dark and of evil foreboding, there is such gloom that affects the entire country. Even in your air conditioned room, it will reach you. So, where is your future? Our future lies in our courage…We cannot afford to keep quiet now,” Sereno said.
Also on Thursday, Sereno’s camp debunked a report that she is considering running for senator in the midterm elections next year if the impeachment in Congress or the quo warranto petition succeed.
Lacanilao, one of her spokespersons, said Sereno remains optimistic that she will win in the ouster cases against her.
“She is focused on the impeachment and quo warranto cases for now, which she should both win ultimately based on law and evidence,” he said.
He also rebuffed comparisons between her and the late Chief Justice Renato Corona, saying she was never accused of having hidden wealth.
“One cannot draw parallels between the two chief justices because their cases are entirely different from each other. The difference is monumental,” said Lacanilao.
Lacanilao said that Corona himself admitted he had about P183 million in peso and dollar deposits, which were not reflected in his SALN.
In the case of Sereno, Solicitor General Jose Calida filed a quo warranto petition questioning the validity of her appointment as chief justice in 2012 over alleged lack of integrity when she failed to submit to the Judicial and Bar Council her SALNs while she was law professor at the University of the Philippines.
However, it turned out that nine of Sereno’s U.P. SALNs had already been recovered aside from the 2002 SALN found in her 201 file at the university and her 1998 SALN that is with the Office of the Ombudsman, Lacanilao said.
In the House, a leftist bloc of lawmakers threatened to file a complaint against lawyer Lorenzo Gadon for cursing and raising his middle finger at Sereno supporters in Baguio City.
At a news conference, Representatives Ariel Casilao of Anakpawis Party-list and Carlos Zarate of Bayan Muna denounced Gadon’s action.
“We will urge our colleagues, for example, former congressman Teddy Casiño was there in Baguio, probably to file a case against Gadon,” Casilao said.
Gadon, who filed the impeachment complaint against Sereno, went to Baguio City to attend the oral arguments on the quo warranto petition filed against Sereno when he was booed by supporters of the chief justice. In response, Gadon yelled at the Sereno supporters, calling them stupid.
Casilao said Gadon, as a lawyer, should not have acted that way.
Zarate said Gadon could have resorted to name-calling because he failed to offer any good arguments.