May 11, 2018 saw Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno ousted from office after the quo warranto petition filed against her by the Solicitor General Jose Calida was granted in an 8-6 voting. Calida filed this petition March 5 of this year due to Sereno’s alleged failure to file her Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN), among others. It is the position, however, of majority of legal experts, including deans of law schools, and former members of the judiciary that this action strongly disregards the Constitution and questions the integrity of our Supreme Court.
Article XI, Section 2 of the 1987 Constitution highlights that “the President, the Vice-President, the Members of the Supreme Court, the Members of the Constitutional Commissions, and the Ombudsman may be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, culpable violation of the Constitution…”
In turn, the Constitution gives Congress the role of upholding accountability, with the House of Representatives having the “power to initiate all cases of impeachment” and the Senate given the “sole power to try and decide all cases of impeachment.” This was done to establish the system of checks and balances among the three branches of government.
While the fact remains that an issue with Sereno being unable to file her SALNs is a fault on Sereno’s the CJ’s part, it is of insufficient grounds to question her eligibility to assume office as Chief Justice. The quo warranto petition of the Constitution provides that this may be availed of only within a year from appointment of the members of the judiciary and other impeachable officials; significantly being misapplied apropos with the case of Chief Justice Sereno who has been holding office for more than five years. With this in mind, it is only logical to conclude that the quo warranto petition should not have been granted. More so, it should not have even been filed.
In his dissenting opinion, Associate Justice Alfredo Benjamin Caguiao challenged the Court, stating that through choosing a means of “expediency” or “convenience” such as the quo warranto and avoiding the procedure of impeachment, it is there that the Court fails. He further describes the case as “nothing more than cheap trickery crouched as some gaudy innovation.”
Majority of the legal community also expressed their disagreement with the process, with law faculty members across the country describing it as “unconstitutional.”
As a result, Sereno questions the manner of handling the petition against her and accuses the six magistrates who voted to oust her of prejudgement. Associate Justices Teresita De Castro, Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Francis Jardeleza, Samuel Martires, and Noel Tijam were those that were accused of bias and animosity towards Sereno and her case. It was revealed that the footnotes of Tijam’s 153-page ponencia was drafted four days before Sereno could give her comment on the quo warranto petition which meant that there was no chance for her voice to be heard. Unfortunately, the high court ruled that the allegations of bias towards the case were baseless and were lacking in compelling evidence.
Various international and local groups have expressed their criticism on the injustice brought to Sereno by Duterte and his administration. When the news of Sereno’s ousting broke, many universities, law schools, and organizations all over Metro Manila quickly took up the banner to fight for injustice by organizing protests and initiating social media movements to show support for Sereno amidst the controversy. However, government units merely turned a blind eye to these efforts. Among those groups who expressed indignation on the SC’s final ruling against Sereno were the Lasallian East Asia District and De La Salle Philippines.
The decision of the eight Supreme Court justices to oust Sereno by the approval of the quo warranto petition instead of an impeachment trial sets a low and tasteless standard for future cases involving anyone that the executive comes head to head with. The ease of the decision-making process further implies that the voice of our state actors are at the disposal of the country’s chief executive. It reduces the constitution, the supreme law of the land, into a mere set of rules that anyone in power can bend at will.
In the days following Sereno’s ungracious and unconstitutional exit from the Supreme Court, the President continues to deny that he had anything to do with the ouster of the Chief Justice, even stating that he will resign should there be any evidence of such. However, Sereno argues that the Solicitor General, who filed for the quo warranto to oust the Chief Justice, reports to the chief executive, who in turn has the power to withdraw the petition if he deemed it unconstitutional.
However, it must be remembered that this is not simply a battle of Sereno vs Duterte as many fanatics of either side would make it appear to be, but an issue of upholding the integrity of our own constitution and the preservation of the balance of power in our government. The erosion of the constitution is the bastardization of our democracy, as the heads of State continue to terminate anyone in the way of its own dubious agenda. The Filipino people are slowly losing their voice in the government as the country once again, blind to its own history, slowly falls under a hand of tyranny guised as “change”.