Six justices registered their dissent to the majority opinion in the Supreme Court decision granting the quo warranto petition against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno. These are Justices Antonio Carpio, Marvic Leonen, Benjamin Caguioa, Estelita Perlas-Bernabe, Mariano del Castillo, and Presbitero Velasco.
Removing Sereno from her seat without undergoing an impeachment trial in the Senate “is a legal abomination,” Associate Justice Leonen said in his dissenting opinion. Further in his dissent, Leonen warned of the precedent the landmark decision set—a “grave” diminishing of judicial independence and a “threat” to the SC’s ability to assert Filipinos’ fundamental rights. Granting the quo warranto petition is to render the Court subservient to an aggressive Solicitor General. To him, the solution to address the problems relating to a Chief Justice is for the Court to call her out or for her to be tried using the impeachment process if any of her actions amounts to the grave offenses enumerated in the Constitution. She also has the alternative to have the grace and humility to resign from her office to protect the institution from a leadership which may not have succeeded to address the divisiveness and the weaknesses within. Granting a Petition for Quo Warranto against the Chief Justice—an impeachable officer —is not the right way to address her inability to gain the respect of the branch of government that she was entrusted to lead, he added.
For his part, Justice Caguioa was of the opinion that the High Court did itself and its members a “disservice” by its failure to resolve its leadership issue internally. “This case marks the time when the Court commits seppuku —without honor,” Caguioa wrote. He opined that quo warranto is not a mode for removal of impeachable officials under the Constitution. And even assuming quo warranto is available, the alleged non-submission or incomplete submission of SALN to the JBC is not a valid ground to question the eligibility of the respondent, the SALN not being a constitutional requirement for the position of Chief Justice. Besides, according to him, the one-year prescriptive period for the filing of quo warranto lapsed one year after the appointment of or assumption of office by the respondent as Chief Justice in 2012.
According to Justice del Castillo, the decision of the majority has granted the SolGen powers to “remake the composition” of the high court, “causing the removal of its members.” He likened the power of the SolGen to a Sword of Damocles over the heads of these officers, the Filipino people cannot be assured that they will discharge their constitutional mandate and functions without fear or favor. Without such assurance, there can be no guarantee that the primordial interest of the sovereign people is promoted.” For him, the SolGen’s move was a form of “constitutional adventurism.”
Justice Bernabe wrote in her dissenting opinion that the OSG should have questioned the discretion of the Judicial and Bar Council to include Sereno in the shortlist of chief justice applicants. She pointed out that the OSG “voluntarily admitted that the JBC’s grave abuse of discretion is not at all an issue. Despite voting for the retention of Sereno, Bernabe said she made no claim that Sereno “is or is not a person of integrity x x x In fact, if there is one thing that is glaringly apparent from these proceedings, it is actually the lack of respondent’s candor and forthrightness in the submission of her SALNs. Integrity must be threshed out in the appropriate case for certiorari,” Bernabe said.
Justice Velasco observes: “There was no attempt to assail and contest much less nullify the JBC’s findings that the respondent possessed all qualifications, the JBC’s decision must stand.” While Velasco agreed to quo warranto as a proper remedy, he clarified that the one year prescribed period for filing such petition had lapsed. He said that Sereno’s nomination and appointment “has not been timely challenged, much less nullified,” and that “the findings and qualifications should be respected.”
Finally, Senior Associate Justice Carpio, now acting chief justice after the ouster of Sereno, voted also to dismiss the quo warranto petition. Carpio opined that not only did Sereno allegedly fail to file her SALNs, she also committed an impeachable offense because of it. However, there is only one remedy against the Chief Justice – impeachment.
According to Carpio:
“The House impeaches, and the Senate convicts. This is the only method allowed under the Constitution to remove a member of this Court. To allow any other method is to re-write the Constitution. To permit this quo warranto petition to remove an incumbent member of this Court is to violate the Constitution.
The grounds for impeachment are: culpable violation of the Constitution, treason, bribery, graft and corruption, other high crimes, and betrayal of public trust.
The catch-all phrase “betrayal of public trust” covers every conceivable misconduct by an impeachable officer, whether committed while in government service before the appointment, at the time of application for the office, or after appointment to office. Any misrepresentation on material matters at the time of application for office is an integrity issue subsumed under the phrase “betrayal of public trust.”
As I pointed out earlier, the repeated failure to file SALNs constitutes culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust, grounds for removing an impeachable officer. While the failure to file SALNs may also raise questions on the integrity, and thus the qualification, of an applicant for Justice of the Supreme Court, the relevant applicable violation, for purposes of removing such impeachable officer once already in office, is culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust. Only Congress, through the impeachment process, can remove an impeachable officer on these grounds
If a court finds that an impeachable officer has committed an impeachable act, the court should refer the matter to Congress, for Congress to exercise its exclusive mandate to remove from office impeachable officers. No court, not even this Court, can assume the exclusive mandate of Congress to remove impeachable officers from office.”
In the next column, citing her motion for reconsideration, I will present the case of the Chief Justice, her legal arguments which is consistent with the dissent and her version of the facts which directly contradict Justice Carpio’s conclusions about her having committed an impeachable offense.
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