The Infinity Gauntlet in Sereno decision
The most shocking plot twist in the quo warranto case is not how our Supreme Court voted 8-6 to “oust” Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno. It is how three dissenters voiced universe-shattering criticism of her integrity.
Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio’s word has an Infinity Gauntlet’s force. No less than Carpio wrote: “In light of her previous failure to file her [statement of assets, liabilities and net worth] for several years while she was a UP College of Law Professor, her failure to file her SALN upon assuming office in 2010 as Associate Justice of this Court constitutes culpable violation of the Constitution.”
The most senior, most respected justice of godlike stature sent shockwaves across the universe by explicitly stating Sereno must be impeached based on the evidence on her SALNs, despite rejecting quo warranto.
Carpio cites “culpable violation of the Constitution,” a constitutional ground for impeachment. SALNs are explicitly required by the Constitution itself.
Beyond her University of the Philippines SALNs, Carpio emphasized her first SALN as a justice violated regulations. It was not sworn. It stated her net worth as of Dec. 31, 2009, not the day she assumed office.
Justice Estela Perlas Bernabe, appointed by President Benigno Aquino III like Sereno, ended her dissent: “if there is one thing that is glaringly apparent … it is actually the lack of respondent’s candor and forthrightness in the submission of her SALNs.”
Justice Marvic Leonen, another Aquino appointee, stressed his dissent was not “a shield for the respondent to be accountable for her actions.”
Leonen refuted Sereno was ousted for anti-administration positions. This is “too much of a political narrative which elided her own accountability.”
Sereno, he outlined, voted pro-administration to reject a joint session of Congress to declare martial law, uphold the choice of House of Representatives minority leader and uphold a curfew for minors.
Her presiding over the May 11 session on her own case “border[ed] on the contumacious.” Leonen decried her inaccurate announcements “to suit her personal agenda,” “[f]alse narratives designed to simplify and demonize an entire institution” and “underserved, speculative, callous, ad hominem, and irrelevant attacks on [justices’] personal reputation.”
Justice Alfredo Caguioa, the final Aquino appointee, wrote the most spirited defense. Even he lamented “internal matters that, to some, bespeak the lack of able leadership by the Chief Justice” and the Supreme Court’s “inability to resolve this leadership issue within its own walls.”
My past columns echo the dissents. First, we teach freshmen high court justices may only be removed by impeachment, to assure independence.
Although not explicit in the Constitution itself, past decisions and the deliberations of the Constitution’s authors stress this.
Second, quo warranto cannot be raised six years after Sereno took office.
Our Rules of Court prohibit quo warranto cases after one year, to prevent uncertainty in who officials are.
Third, quo warranto should raise a requirement under the Constitution, not mere internal requirements of the Judicial and Bar Council in screening nominees.
Allowing quo warranto, in Justice Mariano del Castillo’s words, hangs a sword of Damocles over impeachable officers’ independence.
My only possible rationalization is justices believe they are saving the universe, like Thanos.
Something was clearly wrong, based on the dissents, even discounting how the decision and Justice Teresita Leonardo de Castro’s concurrence recite Sereno’s alleged misdeeds, from SALNs and underdeclaring VAT to the trivial—practicing law while teaching in UP without clearance.
This most generous script parallels President Joseph Estrada’s 2001 quo warranto case. The Supreme Court ruled he resigned after the Edsa II protests but could not quite explain how, a decision that still confounds students.
Even this forgiving reading feels like watching Spider-Man after Thanos’ fingers snap, after Carpio tries to wrest the gauntlet away.
React: email@example.com, Twitter @oscarfbtan, facebook.com/OscarFranklinTan.
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.