By Mario Casayuran
Former Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III on Friday expressed optimism that the Senate would be able to adopt a Senate resolution stressing that it is Congress that has the power to oust Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno through impeachment proceedings and not through a quo warranto petition.
Pimentel based this optimism on the fact that that there are 14 of the 23 senators that signed the resolution. They included himself and Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph G. Recto and Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon.
Like Pimentel, opposition Sen. Risa Honitiveros maintained that the resolution would eventually be adopted when they senators go back for their third regular session of the current 17th Congress on July 23.
At present, the Senate and the House of Representatives are on a seven-week sine die adjournment.
For lack of quorum, debate on the resolution was stopped. This led to sine adjournment of the Senate at 2 a.m. on Thursday, probably triggered by a lengthy 10-hour debate on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) that was eventually passed.
Pimentel conceded that failure of the Senate to adopt the resolution was because the debaters have opposing views on the matter and that no one blinked.
Thus, there was no meeting of the minds, he added.
Senate Resolution 738, signed by 14 of the 23-member Senate, expresses “the sense of the Senate to uphold the Constitution on the matter of removing a chief justice from office.”
Sen. Panfilo Lacson, one of those who did not sign the resolution, opened the period of debate by lobbing a barrage of questions to the resolution sponsor, Sen. Francis Pangilinan, a lawyer, about the extent of the Senate’s authority in questioning the Supreme Court’s powers in interpreting the Constitution.
“Was she (Sereno) impeached? The Supreme Court removed the chief justice via quo warranto… who interprets the Constitution? Is it the Senate?” Lacson asked.
Lacson, former Philippine National Police (PNP) chief and a Philippine Military Academy (PMA) graduate, is not a lawyer.
Pangilinan replied: “While it is true the final arbiter, the interpreter of the Constitution would be the final arbiter, we, too, as legislators from time to time also interpret the Constitution to craft laws.”
The debate took more than 30 minutes and was only stopped when Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III moved to suspend the session.
When the session resumed, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon immediately questioned the quorum resulting in adjournment around 2 a.m. Thursday.
Pimentel, a bar topnotcher, said he did not sign the resolution to influence the court.
“I signed it to express the opinion or sense of the Senate,” he explained.
Hontiveros, a signatory to the resolution, expressed dismay that the resolution was not adopted.
In a press briefing hours after the adjournment, Hontiveros said she believes that the content and respectful tone of the resolution are not contrary to the arguments they raised.
On reports that some of the signatories to the resolution might withdraw their signatures, Hontiveros said no one has told the group that he or she is withdrawing.
Since the period of interpellation was extended, Hontiveros said she is confident that they could reach out to the other senators and affix their signatures to the resolution in the third regular session.
Those who did not sign the resolution, aside from Lacson and Sotto, were Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri and Senators Gregorio B. Honasan II, Nancy Binay, Joseph Victor ‘’JV’’ Ejercito, Richard J. Gordon and Emmanuel D. Pacquiao.
In a majority ruling on May 11, the Supreme Court said its grant of a quo warranto petition to oust Sereno seeks to ensure that “only qualified individuals” hold public office and that impeachment was not the sole means to remove impeachable officials.
She has appealed her ouster, asserting that the decision was “null and void” as she could only be removed through impeachment proceedings.