Impeaching justices the right thing to do
Congratulations to Representatives Edcel Lagman, Teddy Baguilat, Gary Alejano and Tom Villarin for their filing of impeachment charges against the Supreme Court justices who formed the majority decision in the quo warranto case against the colleague who was a pain in their asses—Chief Justice (CJ) Maria Lourdes Sereno—and who subsequently dismissed out of hand her motion for reconsideration. It may be a “suntok sa buwan” (hitting the moon—a useless effort) on their part, but, Reader, it is nevertheless the right thing to do. No matter how hard.
They have again forcibly brought back to our mind the terrible things that were done in the process of kicking out the CJ. The Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches literally ganged up on her, while we looked on. Only consider:
Executive: The President, miffed that Sereno had dared to call attention to the separation of powers, bad-mouthed her, with accusations that were without basis (extravagant spending in Boracay, traveling first-class). She answered them, further fueling his anger (women should know and keep their place).
Legislative: A lawyer closely identified with former president and current Rep. Gloria Arroyo—who is herself closely identified with the President—filed impeachment charges against Sereno. Charges that, despite being based on hearsay and newspaper reports, were forthwith deemed sufficient in form and substance by a complicit Congress (with a supermajority for Mr. Duterte).
Not only that. Congress then denied her the right to confront the witnesses against her, unless she herself appeared in Congress. She could not be represented by counsel. Reader, this is a sitting Chief Justice, remember, with other things to do.
The witnesses against her included justices of the Supreme Court who, most viewers would attest, obviously had axes to grind against the CJ.
But it soon became obvious, even to the congressmen, that they did not have much of a case, and that even if the CJ was impeached, the Senate, whose members have much more brains and competence, would not convict with so little evidence against her. Sereno was reserving her answers for the Senate. So, what to do?
Executive 2: Comes now Solicitor General Jose Calida to the rescue. So there is not enough for impeachment? Never fear, Calida is here. And he files quo warranto proceedings against the CJ.
What, exactly, is that? Essentially, his argument is that she should never have been CJ in the first place. Why? Because she did not submit all her statement of assets, liabilities and net worth. And he discovered this only during the impeachment hearings (where the CJ was not participating).
Never mind that the Judicial and Bar Council, which is constitutionally mandated to pass on the qualifications of judiciary candidates, said formally that she was in substantial compliance. Never mind that other sitting justices had also failed to submit all their SALNs. Basta: The CJ was not qualified.
Another impediment for the SG: There is a prescription period for quo warranto. One year. And the CJ had been there for five years already.
Again, no problem for Calida. He also uses a divine-right-of-kings argument, and says there is no prescription period if it is the state that is involved. The state is king, so it is exempt from such things. Of course, in more elegant language.
So Calida brings this up to the Supreme Court, ignoring the voices of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (60,000-strong), deans of law schools and law professors, who were one in saying that the only way to remove a sitting justice is by impeachment.
Judiciary: And the Supreme Court buys it. Remember the Supreme Court members who had testified against the CJ in Congress? They refused to inhibit themselves.
Not only did they not inhibit, they all voted to accept the arguments of SG Calida. The vote, if you will remember, was 8-6, to kick CJ Sereno out. The majority decision used arguments that would put a first year law student to the blush.
To top it all, four of those who voted to remove the CJ subsequently accepted nominations to be the new CJ, one of them having less than two months to go, if she is appointed, before retirement.
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