Friday, September 21, 2018
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Commentary

Supreme Court in a quandary

The Supreme Court is trapped in an unprecedented quandary, with justices torn between duty and personal-partisan imperatives. Whatever the high court decides on the merit of the government’s attempt to unseat Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno—through the shortcut of a quo warranto petition rather than the constitutional impeachment court of the Senate—will seal its fate: either as the majestic, impartial arbiter of justice or a forum no better than a kangaroo court.

It is unmistakable that the overwhelming sentiment and views of the justices are against the unpopular Sereno. The shameful (and shameless) spectacle of seven justices trooping to the lower chamber, the House of Representatives, to vent their ire on the Chief Justice speaks volumes about their true feelings. Never had the high court sunk so low in the public eye. The justices who threw caution to the winds
by washing their dirty linen in full view of the mass media and live TV audiences were seemingly unmindful of the irreparable damage they were inflicting on the very name and integrity of the Supreme Court. Most people wondered: Why couldn’t they have preserved the dignity and independence of their once august office by keeping their mouths shut in public, and settling their petty wranglings
among themselves?

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Whatever the faults of Sereno, and she has quite a few, she deserves her day in a proper court. The 1987 Constitution clearly stipulates that as an impeachable official, she can only be removed through an impeachment trial, with the Senate sitting as impeachment court.

According to authoritative sources, Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, the lone dissenter to the quo warranto petition pending at the high court, told his colleagues that “the justices of the Supreme Court, being impeachable officers, can be removed only through impeachment.”

For him, “the quo warranto petition may supplant the constitutional requirements of taking out impeachable officers from authority and should be dismissed outright.”

To most people, the petition also invites the suspicion that the so-called impeachment grounds against Sereno are sloppy and weak and would not prosper in the Senate, hence the fast lane taken by
Solicitor General Jose Calida, who could rely on the strong numbers of anti-Sereno justices in the Supreme Court.

But outside the Court, Leonen could count on a gathering storm of popular support, and the strong dissenting voices of ranking officials such as Vice President Leni Robredo, Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, Senators Antonio Trillanes and Risa Hontiveros, Rep. Gary Alejano, and Integrated Bar of the Philippines president Abdiel Dan Fajardo.

In sum and substance, these dissenters argue that the quo warranto petition is illegal because an impeachable official cannot be removed through a nonimpeachment proceeding. Furthermore, the method constitutes a dangerous assault on the Senate’s integrity and the Philippines’ democratic processes. If the petition is approved, no impeachable official is safe from such a Sword of Damocles, not even the President himself.

If his peers in the Supreme Court overrule Leonen, and they certainly have the dominant numbers to grant the controversial petition, the high court will have inflicted a mortal blow on itself, a kind of
unintended hara kiri.

The Supreme Court must therefore rise to the occasion and make the right decision. Otherwise, it will be a permanent casualty of its own greed and pettiness.

Narciso Reyes Jr. (ngreyes1640@hotmail.com) is an international book author and former diplomat. He lived in Beijing in 1978-1981 as bureau chief of the Philippine News Agency.

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TAGS: Chief Justice Maria Lourdes, impeachment, kangaroo court, Supreme Court
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