The die is cast for chief justice justice (on leave), Maria Lourdes Sereno. Before or after summer this year, two things could happen to her—she keeps her job or she is ousted.
The odds are that she will be ousted, either by the Supreme Court itself, or the Senate acting as an impeachment court. By the Supreme Court for her being unqualified in the first place (through a quo warranto case), or by the Senate, for any or all of the six articles of impeachment against her which come under four categories—culpable violation of the Constitution, betrayal of public trust, graft, and abuse of power.
Sereno’s removal will be processed on two fronts—before an impeachment court at the Senate after the House plenary endorses the articles of impeachment, and before the Supreme Court itself, where Sereno, at this writing, in an unprecedented spectacle, was facing her own peers (most of the 13 now sitting en banc are hostile to her) to defend herself from allegations of the government (represented by Solicitor General Jose Calida) that she was not qualified to be a chief justice in the first place, having violated, before her appointment, the law and the Constitution on the rudimentary requirements for applicants for chief justice. One requirement is religious and timely filing of statement of assets, liabilities and net worth.
Quo warranto is swifter and more surgical and requires the vote of just eight justices. An impeachment could be prolonged and messy and requires the three-fourths vote of all 23 sitting senators.
To me, Sereno’s chief failing as chief justice is that she antagonized so many people for two reasons. One, something is wrong with her psychologically, and two, she has had too much power trip. For someone who is very young and to many, a very unqualified chief justice, those are fatal character flaws.
Sereno antagonized the most important person in this country—President Rodrigo Roa Duterte. He has declared her his enemy if not an enemy of the people.
Per Rep. Rey Umali, chairman of the House Committee of Justice which conducted hearings for five months (a record for an impeachment complaint) on her case, Sereno failed to file her SALNs 17 times, including the years 1996 to 2006. Umali says Sereno filed only three SALNs and in two of them, she did not even subscribe to their authenticity.
According to SolGen Calida, the chief on an indefinite leave failed to file her SALN 11 times. Now, that’s what I call serial impunity of the worst kind.
Here is what Duterte said April 9 when asked by a newsman in Davao about Sereno:
“Sereno. Sinabi ko na sa iyo, hindi ako nakialam. If you are insisting, then count me in. Count me in. And I will egg (on) Calida to do his best. Ako na mismo maglakad rin kalaban sa iyo. Sinasabi ko na sa iyo na hindi ako nakikialam.
“Now sige ka diyan daldal nang daldal. O sige, upakan kita. I will help any investigator. Talagang uupakan kita.
“So I’m putting you on notice that I am now your enemy. And you have to be out of the Supreme Court. I will see to it that after that, then I’ll request the Congress, go into the impeachment right away.
“Because the two entities can hear it simultaneously. They can proceed with the quo warranto. Ang quo warranto is Supreme Court eh; impeachment is Congress.
“So that I’d like to ask Speaker Alvarez now, kindly fast-track the impeachment of... she is bad for the Philippines.”
President Duterte minced no words in declaring Sereno is an enemy. In military terms, that is like a death sentence. In political terms, you are guilty as charged and should be removed from office.
Allow me, however, to quote from a much admired law dean, Tony La Viña’s column, on his thoughts on Sereno’s travails:
“For the first time in history, a sitting chief justice will argue her case as a respondent, not as a sitting judge, before her peers.
“Can the [Supreme] Court be depended on to pass judgment with impartiality and competence considering the perceived hostility and rumored squabbles which have been going on for years between Sereno and some of her colleagues? That there is bad blood among the members has been reinforced when some justices—Associate Justices Teresita de Castro, Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Noel Tijam and Francis Jardeleza—testified against her before the House Committee on Justice.
“The quo warranto decision, which could come soon, absolutely could change our constitutional system radically. The Corona impeachment … released destructive forces on the judiciary. This [Sereno] case could unleash even more dreadful consequences on the institution…”