By Rey Panaligan
Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II said yesterday the Supreme Court (SC) can oust Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes P. A. Sereno from her post by nullifying her 2012 appointment in a quo warranto case.
“If your appointment is void ab initio (from the beginning), I believe that a petition for quo warranto will suffice to remove you from your position notwithstanding the fact that you are an impeachable official,” Aguirre told journalists covering the DOJ.
A quo warranto is a special civil action “against a person who usurps, intrudes into, or unlawfully holds or exercises a public office.”
The rules provide that the solicitor general or a public prosecutor can file a quo warranto case “when directed by the President… or when upon complaint or otherwise he has good reason to believe that a case… can be established by evidence.”
The rules also provide that “when the solicitor general commences the action, it may be brought in a Regional Trial Court in the City of Manila, in the Court of Appeals, or in the Supreme Court.”
Sources said that the office of Solicitor General Jose Calida has started preparing a case for quo warranto against Sereno on a complaint-letter sent to his office.
Aguirre’s statement on the removal of Sereno via a quo warranto case rebutted the claim of her camp that she could be removed only through impeachment.
The move to file a quo warranto case against Sereno was described by her spokespersons as “patently unconstitutional” and a “mockery of the rule of law.”
Aguirre, an ex-officio member of the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) that is constitutionally mandated to accept, screen and nominate appointment in the judiciary, said Sereno’s failure to meet the requirement on the submission of statement of assets, liabilities, and net worth (SALN) for 10 years is a justiciable issue that the SC can resolve.
He stressed that it is the mandate of the SC to resolve any petition filed before it, and a legal issue involving application of JBC rules and requirements for appointments in the judiciary would need a definitive ruling from the High Court.
Earlier, lawyer Oliver Lozano had asked the SC to nullify the appointment of Sereno citing “paramount interest of public welfare.”
“We respectfully pray that the Honorable Court en banc, motu proprio (on its own), declare void the appointment of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno accordingly in the paramount interest of public welfare,” Lozano said in his quo warranto petition.
Lozano said a verdict from the SC “will also preserve the independence of the Judiciary from Congress.”
He cited the House of Representatives’ impeachment hearings that “have caused deep division and dissension in the Bench and Bar.”
On the other hand, suspended lawyer Eligio Mallari asked Calida to initiate a quo warranto proceedings against Sereno whom he described as a “de facto” chief justice.
Mallari told Calida that Sereno has no legal right to the post of chief justice since she failed to comply with the requirements for the position like the failure to submit all her SALNs.
He also cited Sereno’s “very low score or failing mark” in a psychological test taken before her inclusion in the shortlist for chief justice done by the JBC.
“Right now, Sereno’s competence and integrity are under intense public scrutiny. Having scored very low or flunked the psychological test and in view of non-submission of all her SALNs prior to appointment, Sereno’s claim to the position is tenuous, and must be challenged in a quo warranto proceeding by the Solicitor General,” he added.
Sereno, who has gone on an indefinite leave since March 1, is facing impeachment for alleged culpable violation of the Constitution, corruption, and betrayal of public trust. She has denied the charges.
The justice committee of the House of Representatives is expected to vote this week on whether there is ground to elevate the complaints to the Senate for trial.
While Sereno is on leave, Senior Justice Antonio T. Carpio is the acting chief justice.
Earlier, Sereno had dared the lawmakers to file the impeachment complaints against her before the Senate for trial or dismiss them outright for lack of evidence.
“I ask only one thing from the political leaders, only one thing, give me my day at the Senate or admit that there is no probable cause,” Sereno said in her recent speech before judges, lawyers and law students in a forum at the University of Baguio.
“If they were so sure of their evidence that I have committed a harvest of sins against the people, why not bring it to the Senate,” Sereno challenged the members of the House committee on justice that is investigating the complaints.
Meanwhile, it was reported that SC employees would wear red during the flag-raising ceremony this morning to show “love and support” to 13 justices who compelled Sereno to go on an indefinite leave.
The same reports also stated that judges and court employees in the trial courts in Metro Manila would support their colleagues’ move in the SC.
“The members of the judiciary support our beloved Supreme Court justices. We believe that their action was for the good of the entire judiciary,” stated the manifesto that would be distributed today.
Liable for graft
Senator Antonio Trillanes IV on Sunday warned Supreme Court justices they could be held liable for graft if they pursue attempts to remove Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno through a process other than an impeachment trial.
Trillanes issued the statement following reports that certain SC justices, headed by Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, are “maneuvering to force the unconstitutional removal” of the chief magistrate.
“Any attempt to remove the Chief Justice through a process other than impeachment is unconstitutional,” Trillanes said.
“It will be a brazen usurpation of the exclusive power of Congress under the Constitution,” he added.
The opposition senator warned any move to unseat Sereno through unlawful means could be ground for the filing of an impeachment case against them in the future.
“May I remind these justices that any unconstitutional act they commit now can be used as a ground for impeachment against them later on under a different administration,” he said.
“For those who are retired by then, these acts can and will be used as basis for graft cases,” Trillanes stressed.
Seven spots in the 11-man House prosecution team that will attempt to unseat Sereno in her imminent Senate impeachment trial could be as good as filled.
House Justice Committee chairman, Oriental Mindoro 2nd district Rep. Reynaldo Umali said in an interview Sunday over DZBB radio that he and Majority Floor Leader, Ilocos Norte 1st district Rep. Rudy Fariñas would surely be part of the prosecution panel.
“Traditionally, historically ganon na nga (that’s the case),” said Umali when asked if he would head the congressmen-prosecutors in his capacity as Justice panel chairman.
As for the inclusion of Fariñas, a bar topnotcher and Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez’s right-hand man, Umali said, “Definitely kasama ho siya sa prosecution team (He’s definitely part of the prosecution team).”
It should be noted that Umali and Fariñas were part of the prosecution during the Senate impeachment trial of Sereno’s predecessor, the late Renato Corona, in 2012.