Rule of law deteriorated with Sereno ouster, says Commission on Jurists

Published May 31, 2018, 2:37 PM

by AJ Siytangco


By Jeffrey Damicog

The ouster of former Supreme Court (SC) Chief Justice Maria  Lourdes Sereno may have caused a deterioration in the country’s rule of law, an international organization said.

“Sereno’s removal comes on the heels of a series of public statements by President Rodrigo Duterte attacking the Chief Justice, including direct threats to seek her removal from the Court,” pointed out the International Commission on Jurists (ICJ) in a statement.

Maria Lourdes Sereno addresses her supporters outside the Supreme Court on Friday, May 11, 2018, after the high tribunal voted 8-6 to oust her from her post. (ALI VICOY / MANILA BULLETIN)
Maria Lourdes Sereno addresses her supporters outside the Supreme Court on Friday, May 11, 2018, after the high tribunal voted 8-6 to oust her from her post.

Last May 11, the SC en banc voted 8-6 to grant the quo warranto petition of Solicitor General Jose Calida who sought to void Sereno’s 2012 appointment as chief justice due to her failure to submit her Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) to the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) which set the requirement.

However, the ICJ said “her removal, through the contrivance of a judicial ruling by a sharply divided Court, adds to the perception that the government institutions are unable or unwilling to safeguard the rule of law, and will attack the institutions that protect it.”

“Preserving the independence of the judiciary in the Philippines is crucial at a time when the government is credibly alleged to have been engaged in widespread and systematic human rights violations, amounting to crimes under international law,” said ICJ Asia Pacific Director Frederick Rawski.

“Given the perception of political interference and the potential impact of this case on the credibility of the judiciary as a whole, it is imperative that the Court swiftly and fairly consider the Chief Justice’s motion for reconsideration,” he added.

The ICJ reminded that under international standards including the United Nations (UN) Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary, the judiciary must be able to conduct itself without “improper influences, inducements, pressures, threats or interferences, direct or indirect… for any reason.”

Last Wednesday, Sereno filed her motion for reconsideration which asked the high tribunal to overturn its decision to grant the quo warranto petition.

In her 205-page motion for reconsideration, Sereno reiterated her stance why the SC en banc shouldn’t have voted in favor of granting the quo warranto petition.

“In accordance with letter and spirit of Section 2, Article XI of the Constitution, this Honorable Court had consistently held in a long line of jurisprudence, that impeachable officers, especially Members of the Supreme Court, could be removed only by impeachment,” she reminded.

“Now, an impeachable officer may also be ousted via quo warranto,” Sereno lamented.

Sereno reminded the SC that in 2012 it was the JBC which decided to drop the requirement since there were applicants who had difficulty recovering their respective SALNs.

“This Honorable Court had repeatedly confirmed the power and authority of the JBC to set its own standards and criteria for determining a person’s “integrity,” and that the Supreme Court could not alter or modify those rules,” she reminded.

“Now, the Supreme Court can set aside the JBC’s rules, standards, and criteria for determining an applicant’s “integrity,” and apply and substitute its own definition and guidelines for determining that quality,” Sereno said.

In the same motion for reconsideration, Sereno insisted that six SC magistrates be inhibited from handling the quo warranto case, namely, Justices Teresita Leonardo-De Castro, Diosdado Peralta, Francis Jardeleza, Noel Tijam, Lucas Bersamin and Samuel Martires. They are among the eight magistrates who voted in favor of the quo warranto petition.