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Editorial

A political decision

/ 05:09 AM June 20, 2018

The Supreme Court’s decision to deny ousted chief justice Maria Lourdes Sereno’s motion for reconsideration — like the original decision removing her from the Court —was not unexpected.

The same eight justices who ruled in favor of the quo warranto petition filed by the solicitor general voted to reject the motion for reconsideration “with finality.”

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The same six justices who held that the quo warranto proceeding was either unconstitutional or premature voted in Sereno’s favor.

Nevertheless, the finality of the decision still stunned the public that had been waiting for the news: For the first time ever, the Court had ousted a sitting member, against the clear spirit and express letter of the Constitution.

The rejection of Sereno’s motion meant that an impeachable official had been removed from office without benefit of
impeachment.

All the rationalizations that the small majority of eight offered to justify Sereno’s ouster (and it is noteworthy that, on such a historic case, the majority justices issued one majority decision and five separate opinions) shrink into insignificance beside that simple truth: For the first time ever, an impeachable official, indeed the chief justice of the Supreme Court itself, had been removed from office without benefit of impeachment.

And all the rationalizations of the majority become petty exercises in justification, in the sordid light of the Duterte administration’s concerted effort to remove Sereno.

That is, in fact, the true context of her ouster. Ever since she reminded President Duterte about the separation of powers that govern our system and stood up for the independence of the judiciary when Mr. Duterte, then newly elected, included judges in his now infamous narco-list, Sereno has been the object of administration criticism and then the target of an ambitious ouster plan.

At first, the administration tried the impeachment route—and it took months of aimless hearings, and then the degrading participation of some members of the Supreme Court in the congressional inquiry, before the semblance of a defensible impeachment complaint could be stitched together.

But, despite the all-out effort to stain her reputation and blacken her name, Sereno did not fold; and the administration could not be assured of victory if the impeachment complaint were to reach the Senate trial stage.

Hence, the belated quo warranto petition. All the rationalizations of the majority — led by Associate Justice Noel Tijam, who wrote the original ruling, and joined by Associate Justices Teresita De Castro, Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Francis Jardeleza, Samuel Martires, Andres Reyes and Alexander Gesmundo — are now shown for what they truly are: mere props in an elaborate scheme to remove yet one more irritant in the President’s backside.

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Before, in other high-profile cases in which the administration could not countenance a loss, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez spoke scathingly of the Supreme Court’s powers, and questioned its role as the settler of disputes.

On the day the Court rejected the motion for reconsideration with finality, Alvarez had only good things to say: “Our Constitution mandates the Supreme Court to be the final arbiter of legal and constitutional questions. Let us respect its decision, no matter what our persuasions are.”

Then the coup de grace: “The Supreme Court ruling has also rendered moot and academic the impeachment proceedings against Sereno at the House of Representatives.”

That, in fact, was the entire point. The quo warranto petition, which would have faced withering criticism in law school or in lawyers’ forums, was engineered precisely as a way around the impeachment process.

The administration could not be certain that it had enough votes in the Senate to assure a conviction; a small majority in the Court, however, was a different, and indeed viable, proposition.

In the Duterte era, with a pliant Supreme Court, a legally absurd, constitutionally violative decision is merely the continuation of politics by other means.

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TAGS: Inquirer editorial, Maria Lourdes Sereno, quo warranto petition, Sereno impeachment, Supreme Court
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