By Ellson Quismorio
Was Maria Lourdes Sereno’s appointment as Supreme Court (SC) Chief Justice in 2012 valid in the first place?
House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez raised this question Wednesday, saying the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) should look into the possibility of questioning Sereno’s appointment before the High Tribunal.
The basis for Alvarez’s query is the detail coming from the House Justice Committee’s probable cause hearings on the impeachment case filed against Sereno that the then-Associate Justice flunked her psychological exam. Passing the exam is a requirement set by the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) for applicants to the post of Chief Justice.
“Mabigat din yun dahil para sakin, isa yun sa betrayal of public trust eh. Kasi nag-pretend ka na psychologically capable ka eh bumagsak ka naman. Dinaya mo yung taong bayan (That is serious because for me, that is a betrayal of public trust. Because you pretended to be psychologically capable but you failed it. You fooled the people),” he said in a press conference.
Next week, the Justice panel is expected to declare the presence of probable cause in the impeachment rap filed by lawyer Larry Gadon. This will initiate the Senate impeachment trial.
However, Alvarez, a lawyer, pointed out that the impeachment in Congress “presupposes a valid appointment.”
“Halimbawa hindi ka nag-comply doon sa mga requisites na kailangan for that position (For example you didn’t comply with the requirements of the position). Is the appointment valid? Yun ang tanong (That is the question),” he said.
“Kung ako (ay) tatanungin mo, magfa-file ako ng kaso sa Supreme Court. Kukwestyunin ko yung validity mismo noong appointment (If you ask me, I would file a case before the Supreme Court. I will question the validity of the appointment itself),” added the Speaker.
According to him, the most logical person to pursue such a case is Solicitor General Jose Calida. “Para sa akin dapat pag-aralan ng OSG yoong angulo na yun (The OSG should study that angle).”
Moot and academic
Sereno was appointed by then-President Benigno S. Aquino III on August 25, 2012 at the relatively young age of 52. At that time, she had been SC Associate Justice for only two years and thus she bypassed more senior magistrates.
Sereno is entitled to remain as top magistrate until 2030, since the Constitution says that the retirement age for her position is 70.
“Kung hindi valid yung appointment, magiging moot and academic na (ang) impeachment (If the appointment is not valid, then the impeachment becomes moot and academic),” Alvarez said.
Alvarez–a trusted lieutenant of President Rodrigo Duterte–claimed that only the SC has jurisdiction over the validity of Sereno’s appointment.
“If they say it’s not valid, who will argue with them? Doon palang tapos na agad (ang) kaso (They can resolve the case quickly),” he said.
It should be noted that several of Sereno’s fellow SC Justices testified against her during the course of the 15 Justice panel hearings on the determination of probable cause wherein all of Gadon’s 27 allegations were discussed.
Asked if the potential OSG action is just the House of Representatives’ way of “tossing” Sereno’s case back to the SC due to having a “weak” case against her, Alvarez answered it in the negative.
He guaranteed that the Articles of Impeachment to be submitted by the House to the Senate would constitute a strong case. “I think there is more than enough ground [to impeach Sereno].”
Gadon has accused Sereno of having failed her psychological evaluation, garnering a score of 4, where 5 is the lowest.
Go to the beach
Meanwhile, the Speaker advised Sereno to take full advantage of the “wellness leave” that she is currently having.
“Mag-enjoy siya. Mag- beach siya. Magpa-executive check up (She should enjoy herself. She should go to the beach. She should get an executive check up),” Alvarez said.
Lawyer Jojo Lacanilao, Sereno’s spokesperson, confirmed Monday that the SC leader has gone on a wellness leave, but at the same time stressed that she won’t resign amid the impeachment proceeding against her.
Lacanilao said the particular leave has been scheduled for March, but the Chief Justice has opted to take it early “so she may prepare for the Senate [impeachment trial].”
He refused to call it an indefinite leave despite his inability to say when Sereno will come back to work.