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Friday, May 18, 2018

SC must end Sereno opera, dismiss the Senate’s antics


Given that 14 senators, including the Senate president and the Senate president protempore, have signed a resolution calling on the Supreme Court to review its decision to oust former Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, many in both the public and the media will tend to imagine that this move is an act of the Philippine Senate. But this still remains to be validated.

It is our duty in the media to ask the 14 legislators this fundamental question: By what authority do you question the jurisdiction and authority of the Supreme Court to hear and resolve the quo warranto petition?

In which part of the Constitution does it say that the Senate has the power to review the decisions of the Supreme Court?

In Article VIII, Section 5 (1) of the Constitution, the Charter says plainly and clearly “[the Supreme Court] shall exercise original jurisdiction over cases affecting ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, and over petitions for certiorari, prohibition, mandamus, quo warranto, and habeas corpus.”

This means the high court has original authority over the quo warranto petition filed by Solicitor General Jose Calida against Maria Lourdes Sereno.

With respect to the Senate’s authority in impeachment cases, the Constitution, in Article XI, Section 3(6), also provides plainly and clearly, “The Senate shall have the sole power to try and decide all cases of impeachment.”

This provision means what it says: the Senate, indeed, has the sole power or jurisdiction over all cases of impeachment.

But this cannot be twisted, as some senators are doing, to mean that the Senate has the sole power to remove impeachable officials. Such exclusivity is not indicated by the Charter at all.

Now, here is the bigger conundrum: There is, in fact, no case of impeachment against Ms. Sereno for the Senate to try and decide on. Without a case, the Senate’s authority is hollow.

The House of Representatives, which called hearings on an impeachment complaint filed against the former chief justice, has not exercised its exclusive power to initiate a case of impeachment and has not approved articles of impeachment against Sereno. The chamber to date has no articles of impeachment against the lady to transmit to the Senate, so Ms. Sereno can stand trial there.

So we ask then: What do the 14 senators seek to assert with their resolution, other than an opportunity to issue a press release and public statement?

As we see the situation now, with regard to the quo warranto petition, the Supreme Court acted within its authority to hear and resolve the case.

In its ruling, the Court emphatically declared: “the Petition for Quo Warranto is Granted. Respondent Maria Lourdes P.A. Sereno is found disqualified from and is hereby adjudged guilty of unlawfully holding and exercising the office of the chief justice. Accordingly, Respondent Maria Lourdes P. A. Sereno is ousted and excluded therefrom.”

The decision is so declarative that retired Associate Justice Arturo Brion was moved to comment that Ms. Sereno cannot now “even claim that she ever officially occupied [the exalted position of chief justice].”

The anxious senators ought to take time to listen to their colleague, Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who declined to sign the resolution and maintains a clear-eyed view of the situation.

Senator Lacson says: “First, we have no jurisdiction. Why? Because the articles of impeachment have not yet been transmitted.”

At present, they have nothing to talk about because the articles are not with the Senate.

More sensibly, Lacson declared: “We cannot question the SC because we are not authorized. There is no authority.”

Nevertheless, the liberal minority in the Senate, joined by senators Risa Hontiveros and Antonio Trillanes, are determined to squeeze some publicity for themselves by keeping the flame of Sereno’s travail alive.

As a newspaper with more than a century of history behind it, we, in the Times, have seen enough public dramas of this kind not to be unduly excited by this. The fact is, these events soon peter out and run out of steam. Reality descends on even the most fervid actors. Normalcy returns to public life. Everyone is soon quickly forgotten.


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