INQUIRER.NET

Supreme Court cannot fire Chief Justice

Justice Marvic Leonen once basked in adulation of activists when he tweeted his dissenting opinion before the martial law decision was released. Now, he is their Brutus and Anakin Skywalker, accused of plotting Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno’s ouster from within the Supreme Court.

His devotees cared more for his perceived political leanings than his (sometimes stretched) legal doctrine. They wanted a social media influencer, not a scholar. They turned on him the moment they thought his leanings changed.

He tweeted: “The universe will have its own peculiar way of showing you who your real friends are.”

Such is the Sereno impeachment Game of Thrones.

The House of Representatives committee on justice and accuser Larry Gadon bored us with endless charges that went nowhere. Sereno’s defense is frustratingly legalistic: She is not accused of any impeachable offense and need account for nothing.

It is time to replace the telenovela with impartial law.

First, a chief justice may only be removed by impeachment under our Constitution. There can be no shortcut.

If the unelected high court instead of the Senate could remove a chief justice over an allegedly invalid appointment six years ago, it could also remove a president.

Second, if the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) overlooked internal rules — not in the Constitution—by not asking for her statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) from when she taught law in state-run University of the Philippines, or gauging her psychological assessment, these cannot be grounds to
revoke Supreme Court appointments.

Third, how could Sereno evade taxes in relation to her Piatco legal fees paid by our government?

She should just disclose her tax returns. She already publicized these fees, the bulk of her then income, and how she spent these. It was mathematically illogical to explain only her spending in relation to her Piatco fees, not all her income.

Fourth, we should discount the many readily disproven charges. For example, if Sereno indeed took entourages of staff and bodyguards on business class flights, there would be receipts.

Fifth, Sereno cannot gloss over the few serious charges. She must disclose her old UP SALNs. One might debate their relevance now, but they cannot be trivialized.

Impeaching Sereno’s predecessor Renato Corona over his SALNs, the Senate cited how the Supreme Court fired court interpreter Delsa Flores for leaving out market stall earnings worth a few thousand pesos in her 1991-1994 SALNs.

Flores told the Inquirer: “I was very happy that even a rich and powerful person like the former Chief Justice could still be punished … Not just the poor and common people like me.”

Further, Sereno must explain high court decisions criticizing her for impropriety. The 2014 Jardeleza vs Sereno case documents how she chaired the JBC, accused now Justice Francis Jardeleza, refused to put her charges in writing, then ruled on her own charges.

The high court said this violated constitutional due process. I likened it to a referee “na nakikisuntok.” I found Sereno’s formal reply to the House intellectually dishonest, claiming the decision praised her “zeal.”

The 2016 Aguinaldo decision accused Sereno of unconstitutionally “clustering” JBC nominees and “a systematic move by the JBC, under Chief Justice Sereno, to arrogate to itself more power and influence ….”

Sixth, Sereno must defend why her alleged administrative misdeeds are not a “string of betrayal” of public trust, as Inquirer columnist Joel Butuyan put it. Impeachable or not, we want to know what on earth pushed justices to testify before the House.

Memes portraying Justice Teresita Leonardo-de Castro as a jealous, bitter old lady only evade the issues.

Finally, Antonio Carpio as acting chief justice is a welcome relief. No one has a stronger reputation to hold the Supreme Court together, with unmatched intellectual firepower, unquestionable independence and patriotism that stares down the Chinese Navy with ancient maps.

Carpio should be the new rallying point of judicial independence, being too stoic and intimidating for telenovelas.

React: oscarfranklin.tan@yahoo.com.ph, Twitter @oscarfbtan, facebook.com/OscarFranklinTan.

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