By Jeffrey G. Damicog
The Supreme Court, in ousting Ma. Lourdes P. A Sereno as Chief Justice, has put impeachable officials on notice that the Constitution allows a quo warranto action against an impeachable officer.
“Even the PET (Presidential Electoral Tribunal) rules expressly provide for the remedy of either an election protest or a petition for quo warranto to question the eligibility of the President and the Vice-President, both of whom are impeachable officers,” read the 153-page SC en banc decision penned by Associate Justice Noel Tijam.
“In fact, this would not be the first time the Court shall take cognizance of a quo warranto petition against an impeachable officer,” he reminded.
In 2001, Tijam recalled that former President and now Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada filed a quo warranto case before the SC questioning the presidency of then President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria MacapagalArroyo who took over following his ouster from office.
“By entertaining the quo warranto petition, the Court in fact determined whether then President Estrada has put an end to his official status by his alleged act of resignation,” Tijam said.
On Friday, the SC voted 8-6 to grant the quo warranto petition filed by Solicitor General Jose Calida who sought to void Sereno’s 2012 appointment as Chief Justice since she failed to submit her Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) before the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) which set the requirement for applicants. The JBC screens applicants seeking positions within the judiciary, including that of Chief Justice.
Sereno insisted she can only be removed through impeachment as provided in the Constitution.
Tijam pointed out that “the language of Section 2, Article XI of the Constitution does not foreclose a quo warranto action against impeachable officers.”
Section 2, Article XI of the Constitution provides: “The President, the VicePresident, 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, treason, bribery, graft and corruption, other high crimes, or betrayal of public trust.”
“We hold, therefore, that by its tenor, Section 2, Article XI of the Constitution allows the institution of a quo warranto action against an impeachable officer. After all, a quo warranto petition is predicated on grounds distinct from those of impeachment. The former questions the validity of a public officer’s appointment while the latter indicts him for the so-called impeachable offenses without questioning his title to the office he holds,” he indicated.
The allegations against Sereno is that she failed to file before the JBC in 2012 her SALNs that she was supposed to have filed when she was still law professor at the University of the Philippines (UP) from 1985 to 2006.
“Respondent could have easily dispelled doubts as to the filing or non-filing of the unaccounted SALNs by presenting them before the Court. Yet, respondent opted to withhold such information or such evidence, if at all, for no clear reason,” Tijam pointed out.
“Respondent firmly latches on to her allegation that she filed her SALNs, only that she has no records of the same. It is, however, too shallow and impetuous for this Court to accept such excuse and disregard the overwhelming evidence to the contrary,” he added.
Proof of integrity
Justice Tijam pointed out that Section 17, Article XI of the Constitution requires: “A public officer or employee shall, upon assumption of office and as often thereafter as may be required by law, to submit a declaration under oath of his assets, liabilities, and net worth.”
With this, Tijam said “one who fails to file his or her SALN violates the Constitution and the laws; and one who violates the Constitution and the laws cannot rightfully claim to be a person of integrity as such equation is theoretically and practically antithetical.”
“Her inclusion in the shortlist of candidates for the position of Chief Justice does not negate, nor supply her with the requisite proof of integrity. She should have been disqualified at the outset,” the magistrate stressed.
Though the JBC eventually decided to do away with the submission of the SALNs in 2012 following requests made by Sereno over alleged difficulty in securing them, Tijam stressed that the Constitution provides that the JBC was created “under the supervision of the Supreme Court.”
“Thus, in interpreting the power of the Court vis-a-vis the power of the JBC, it is consistently held that the Court’s supervisory power consists of seeing to it that the JBC complies with its own rules and procedures,” Tijam noted.
Sereno had earlier sought the inhibition Tijam and Associate Justices Teresita De Castro, Lucas Bersamin, Francis Jardeleza, Samuel Martires, and Diosdado Peralta from participating in the deliberation of the quo warranto case due to their perceived bias against her. The six, along with Associate Justices Andres Reyes Jr. and Alexander Gesmundo, voted to oust her.
Tijam pointed out that the participation of the magistrates during the impeachment proceedings against Sereno at the House of Representatives should not be taken against them since they were summoned to appear and had the consent from the SC en banc.