Making precedent for own ouster?
Maria Lourdes Sereno is facing a two-pronged spear — (1) impeachment, and (2) quo warranto — that seeks to drive her out of office as chief justice. In the midst of such a turbulent period in her term, 13 associate justices have declared her on indefinite leave. Later, she was required by the Supreme Court to comment on the quo warranto petition filed by Solicitor General Jose Calida, with Justice Marvic Leonen as the lone dissenter calling for its outright dismissal. All this doesn’t help erase the perception that her Court is ganging up on her.
We can only speculate, but the seeming unity against Sereno may have something to do with the length of her tenure as chief justice. When she was appointed to the post in 2012 by then President Benigno Aquino III, the end of her tenure was not set to come until after 18 years — or until she steps down from office in 2030 upon retiring at age 70. That left her colleagues in the high court, all older and scheduled to retire ahead of her, with zero chance of ever becoming chief justice.
Even while the process of impeaching Sereno was currently underway at the House of Representatives, Calida filed a petition for quo warranto in the Supreme Court. According to Calida, allowing Sereno to be removed by her colleagues in a quo warranto proceeding is an act of kindness that will spare her the “indignity that the late Chief Justice Renato Corona suffered at the hands of politicians who unjustly convicted him [in an impeachment proceeding].”
The purpose of quo warranto is to oust a usurper of public office, one who may have been appointed despite being ineligible to occupy the post. In Sereno’s case, her eligibility is being questioned because of her failure to file all 10 statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALNs) required for nomination to the post of chief justice by the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC).
The Philippine Constitution provides for the qualifications of a chief justice, and no one disputes that Sereno meets them all. The appointment itself, which according to the Constitution should be made by the president of the Philippines from a short list of nominees submitted by the JBC, was likewise followed.
Considering that the quo warranto petition is pending in the high court, my opinion should be taken with a grain of salt. But for what it’s worth, I believe that the 10 SALNs are mere requirements of the JBC, and not among the qualifications of a chief justice that the Constitution clearly defines.
While the Supreme Court justices may appear to be united against the Chief Justice for a chance at the judiciary’s throne, I trust that they would rise above personal ambition and would not set a precedent that they know could be used against them. Once they allow quo warranto to prosper against the Chief Justice, it will open future doors through which to assail their own appointments as members of the Supreme Court even for the flimsiest of reasons.
Not only the Chief Justice but all other members of the Supreme Court are impeachable officers, in accordance with the Constitution that provides for the difficult process of impeachment as the only mode of removing them from office. Certainly, removing one of them through quo warranto will send a clear and unmistakable message to everyone that there is a much easier path to their own ouster.
* * *
Arjay Karlo F. Villanueva is a private law practitioner.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.