It is a day for Filipinos to celebrate. Justice has been served to the people and to the late former Chief Justice Renato Corona. The Supreme Court of the Philippines voted to oust Lourdes Sereno from the Chief Justice post she had been occupying since 2012 on the basis of an invalid appointment due to her failure to file her Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net worth (SALN).
The high court’s decision has spared a country from having to go through another daunting and expensive impeachment trial similar to what it went through just a little over five years ago after Congress impeached Corona.
This is an historic event indeed and a triumph for all those who demand more transparency of their public servants. Sereno’s ouster highlighted the importance of public servants declaring their assets, liabilities and net worth. All Filipinos should consider this a win for the nation because those who want to run for higher posts in government will think twice about doing so lest they risk being removed from office like Sereno.
The Supreme Court judges proved today that they have the power to remove impeachable public servants through Quo Warranto. This should serve as a warning to aspiring Presidents and Vice Presidents, Supreme Court Judges and Ombudsmans who are currently in public service to keep everything in order especially the filing of their SALN.
While some justices disagreed on the Quo Warranto and its applicability to Sereno, most of them agreed that she violated the law when she failed to file years of SALNs. The justices who refused to write their comment on her missing SALNs seem scared of being criticised by their allies or are trying to avoid weakening their dissenting opinions. Because if they agreed that Sereno violated the law and is therefore not qualified to sit as Chief Justice, then their decision not to oust her would not be consistent.
Sereno’s supporters argue that since she is an impeachable official, she can only be removed through an impeachment trial – a process the House of Representatives are mandated to oversee. They added that Sereno’s removal through Quo Warranto was against the Constitution. But as the international law expert and Business Online columnist Jemy Gatdula explained…
“Art. XI.2 of the constitution merely mentions one mode of removal, hence “may be removed from office, on impeachment”. Note the presence of “may” (in the 1935 and 1973 constitutions it was “shall”) but the absence of the word “only.” The language thereof doesn’t preclude other modes of removal.
Here is Article XI.2 in its entirety:
Article XI.2: “The President, the Vice-President, 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. All other public officers and employees may be removed from office as provided by law, but not by impeachment.”
Indeed, there was no “only”. This means a writ or legal action such as Quo Warranto requiring a person to show by what warrant an office or franchise is held, claimed, or exercised was applicable to Sereno.
If an impeachable official can only be removed through an impeachment process, then why is there a Vice President vote recount currently going on in response to former Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr’s protest case filed in 2016? That’s because Robredo can be removed if proven she cheated in the election by the Supreme Court acting as Presidential Electoral Tribunal. Removing Robredo through an election protest is just another process like Quo Warranto or another way to remove an impeachable official.
The removal of Sereno is not about partisan politics anymore. This is not about Duterte and the Liberal Party. This issue is bigger than all the petty political bickering surrounding it. The integrity of the judiciary was at stake the longer she stayed as Chief Justice. Sereno violated the law. She simply could not hold a position in the SC – a position that should champion respecting and following the law.
Sereno’s supporters should be reminded that this fiasco is all former President BS Aquino’s fault. He set a precedent for removing a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court when he campaigned against Corona using the resources and muscle of his office. He then appointed the least qualified out of all the nominated replacements — someone who committed a worse offense than Corona — to replace his vacated post. Now they know how the public felt after Corona was ousted. It was even worse for him. The prosecution dragged his family through the mud, but they didn’t care. At least Sereno didn’t have to go through a humiliating trial. She should be thankful for the Quo Warrantopetition. But if she had been a bit smarter throughout, she would have resigned instead.
Some senators allied with the Liberal Party are disappointed over the SC decision to oust Sereno. They still insist only the House of Representatives can decide if she should be ousted through an impeachment process. They are not making any sense as usual. Their motives are self-serving. It’s already crystal clear she violated the law so what’s the point in going through an impeachment trial? Unless of course they plan to acquit her. Their disappointment has more to do with the lost opportunity to grandstand and save Sereno. They have no shame since most of them played a big role in ousting Corona using his SALN. Now they make it look like Sereno is being victimised by the Duterte government. Never mind that most of the Supreme Court employees wanted her out. That is a stark contrast to Corona who was respected by his colleagues and staff.
The senators now realise that the Supreme Court Justices have the power to remove impeachable officials too, not just them. Likewise, it proves the system of checks and balances is working. When the members of the Executive, the Judiciary and House of Representatives all have the power to remove each other, then it means they can police each other. That is good for the public.
At the moment, Sereno supporters are staging a rally in protest of her ousting. That’s all they can do. Unfortunately, they have nowhere to go to, no one to seek solace in because the Supreme Court is the final interpreter of the law. Even if Sereno files a motion for consideration, the same justices will decide on the case. The best thing for Sereno and her supporters to do is to accept her fate and spare the public the drama they plan to subject them to. In an ideal world, whether she goes through an impeachment trial or Quo Warranto, if the presiding judges are objective, the results would be the same – her ousting. Truth be told, in an ideal world, Sereno would not have been appointed as Chief Justice at all to begin with.